Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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CITY HALL:

Mayor keeps prostitution legalization debate going

He suggests prostitutes could be treated very well

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Mayor Oscar Goodman insists he’s not in favor of legalizing prostitution in downtown Las Vegas. He just wants there to be an open discussion of the topic.

But his argument is clear as a July afternoon in the neon desert: Most everyone — even locals — seems to think prostitution is legal here, so why not formalize it and make hundreds of millions of dollars from the enterprise?

That’s why Goodman floated the idea publicly in 2004, again to an appalled New York Times columnist in 2007, and, this month, discussed the idea with an unidentified state legislator and people “in the industry.”

Goodman had a great deal to say on the topic at his weekly news conference Thursday.

He acknowledged that some will have “very legitimate” moral objections, arguing that women are debased by prostitution and that the state should not profit from it.

“On the other hand,” Goodman said, “I’ve met with folks from that industry who make a very compelling argument that it could generate 200 million a year in tax dollars, and that would buy a lot of textbooks, pay for a lot of teachers.”

Legalizing the trade would get prostitutes away from abusive pimps, or “exploiters,” as he said he prefers to call them.

Goodman spoke of the humane way in which the city’s new red-light workers would be treated.

He said they — presumably brothel owners high on the idea — are talking about a “sort of an acculturation type of program for employees where they could get education, they could receive child care instead of leaving their kids in a latchkey situation, classes on self-esteem, those kinds of things.”

State Sen. Bob Coffin raised the issue this week when he said he would grant a hearing on proposals to legalize and regulate prostitution in Las Vegas and other urban areas of the state.

Prostitution is legal in most of Nevada, but state law prohibits it in counties with populations of more than 400,000. That means it is illegal in the state’s largest cities, including Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno.

Critics of legalized prostitution maintain it not only dehumanizes women, but that the women are often coercively trafficked into the field by organized criminals, frequently from overseas, and sometimes are forced into the business as children.

According to a 2007 study by prostitution researcher Melissa Farley, more than four-fifths of the 45 legal prostitutes she spoke with in Nevada wanted to leave the business — but were prevented, often physically, from doing so.

Soon after Farley’s report was released, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert weighed in, claiming that Goodman’s talk of legalized brothels in Las Vegas had set a tone for the “systematic, institutionalized degradation” of women.

Yet the debate is far from one-sided, even among women’s activists and academics.

According to its most recent position paper on the issue, the National Organization for Women supports the decriminalization of prostitution — so long as the women are adults and not trafficking victims — “in support of a woman’s choice what to do with her own body.”

UNLV sociology professor Barbara Brents, who has conducted about 50 formal interviews with Nevada prostitutes for her research, notes that legal brothels are “far, far safer places to work than illegal ones.”

Brents says that if the business were legalized here, Las Vegas would have an opportunity to “do it right, to be even more respectful of women, to give them more rights.”

Surely, music to Goodman’s ears.

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