There is no better place to measure the benefits of legalized prostitution than in Elko, Nevada. Nestled within a two-block area just down the street from the Post Office and Courthouse, five independently owned brothels operate under the watchful eyes of five duly elected city councilmen.
It is a regular occurrence to see youngsters with books and lunch pails kicking rocks down the street past Sue's or Mona's or Inez's on their way to school. The "houses," as they are colloquially known by townsfolk, are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The kids pay no heed to the trade their neighborhood businesses ply.
Adult men, however, pay plenty to partake of what the "girls" have to offer on the other side of the locked doors. Punching the buzzer to gain entrance opens the door to opportunities that include $5 beers, a look at what's on the "menu" and a chance to spend some timed intimacy with the available woman of your choice.
Nevada is the only state in the nation where prostitution is legal, with licensed bordellos in 10 of its 16 counties. Ironically, the Silver State's two largest cities Las Vegas and Reno do not countenance brothels. In those areas, patrons pursuing prostitutes must travel to adjoining counties.
Outside of Reno, in Storey County, probably the most infamous brothel, the Mustang Ranch, has had its share of headlines given the escapades of its tax-evading owner Joe Conforte.
Located sixty miles from Las Vegas, the Chicken Ranch of movie lore recently played host to a class trip for students from Randolph College, a private liberal arts school in Lynchburg, Va.
"We're always open to trying to educate the public about legalized prostitution," Chicken Ranch general manager Debbie Rivenburgh told the Associated Press on April 10, 2008.
Rivenburgh, like most proponents of the decriminalization of prostitution, see significant value in regulating an age-old societal phenomenon that is not ever going to be eradicated from the sometimes nefarious nature of the human condition.
While opponents to legalization make compelling arguments regarding the violence, drug addiction, and human rights violations that befall street prostitutes, those arguments actually can be utilized in making the case for regulating the trade.
Consider these built-in benefits to decriminalization:
1. By removing the pimps from the equation, Nevada's legal brothels take the prostitutes off the street and house them in generally well-run, comfortable settings with plenty of rules to protect the women who choose this occupation.
Instead of standing on street corners beckoning johns in the dark of night, as they were known to do at 4th and T streets in Sacramento, Calif., Nevada's working girls decorate their own rooms as they see fit, establish regular clients, and know that should any trouble arise, they are in a secure environment with help close by.
2. Required by state health codes, and closely monitored by brothel owners and city regulators, Nevada prostitutes must use condoms and have weekly medical tests to guard against the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
3. Licensing and regulating bordellos enriches the tax base. According to the Elko County Assessor's office, there are roughly nine legal brothels in this, the third-largest county (by land size) in the nation. "They are treated like every other business in Nevada," said the assistant assessor.
This means each location pays for an annual business license, and pays taxes for real and personal property, including land, equipment and furnishings. Of course, the Internal Revenue Service gets its share.
Perhaps most important, decriminalizing prostitution destigmatizes the people who are involved in these businesses. Certainly not everyone will accept this trade or occupation as an appropriate addition to the social fabric of their community.
And, to be sure, there are reliable studies that point to past troubles in a woman's life that might serve as catalysts pushing her into choosing a life of prostitution.
Similarly, especially in Nevada's around-the-clock entertainment industry, there are those who fall prey to the ever-present lures of alcohol, drugs, and gambling.
Nonetheless, the overall benefits to a community that properly and vigorously oversees tightly zoned bordello districts resoundingly outweigh the negative impacts of a pimp and drug-driven culture.
In these houses, the experience can be just the opposite. A troubled woman finds an almost family-like atmosphere that can serve to provide a sense of security that she has never had in her life before.
Where it is common for the working girls to call their resident house manager "Mom", it is also not unusual for some to utilize their Nevada brothel stay as a gateway to a new and different life.
As one "entertainer"-turned-prostitute tells it; her days as a topless dancer for a legal Elko cabaret were far more demeaning than going to work for one of the houses around the corner. "At least here, all the cards are on the table. Everyone knows what they're getting. I felt more like a slut doing the dancing than doing this."