Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, tourist-dependent Nevada had one notorious draw: it was the only place in America where anyone could legally pay for sex.
Even in the state known for sin, business is taboo these days.
Legal brothels have been closed for almost a year, so sex workers can offer less lucrative alternatives such as online appointments or non-sexual escort services. Industry insiders say that many of the licensed prostitutes who work as independent contractors have struggled to qualify for unemployment benefits since the closure began last March, and some have chosen to overshadow their jobs and offer sex illegally .
While the legal brothel business seems incompatible with social distancing, sex workers and brothel owners say it is not. As in other close-contact industries such as massage therapy and dental services, brothels should be allowed to reopen with protective measures.
“We could easily work at arm’s length, just like the massage parlors that are open in Nevada state,” said sex worker Alice Little. “You can go to a dentist and have them put their hands in your mouth. You can go to a tattoo parlor and get your face tattooed right now. You can get piercings on your face. You are not masked for any of these things. “
So far, Nevada officials have not consented.
A state task force making recommendations on coronavirus restrictions has not responded to requests from brothel owners to look for a way to reopen. And a lawsuit Little filed against Governor Steve Sisolak last year expired.
The Democratic governor recently said brothels, along with other adult entertainment options like nightclubs and strip clubs, would remain closed until at least May 1. Thereafter, the state could let the districts decide whether these stores can be opened as long as COVID-19 infections do not increase.
As in many states, Nevada saw an increase in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths during the winter vacation. However, since mid-January these numbers have steadily declined.
Prostitution is only legal in Nevada’s estimated 20 licensed brothels, whose sex workers undergo regular sexually transmitted disease and HIV / AIDS tests and obtain required job cards from local law enforcement after passing an FBI background exam.
Brothels were a throwback to the state’s era as a mining area in the Wild West. They were illegal but were tolerated in some areas until Nevada legalized them in 1971.
They are only allowed to operate in counties with fewer than 700,000 inhabitants. Brothels and prostitution are illegal in Las Vegas and Reno counties, but some brothels are half an hour to an hour away. Some offer free limo rides from casino-heavy cities.
Little, who worked in the brothel at Moonlite Bunny Ranch in the capital, Carson City, says she lost 95% of her income to the closure. She said she provided virtual appointments, webcam experiences, and X-rated content through the subscriber site OnlyFans, among other things.
“At this point, I can survive. I can pay my bills. I can put food on the table, but I had to dive into my savings, ”Little said.
Other brothel workers who dislike associating their faces with online sex work would have had a harder time switching to virtual services, she said. Finding a job outside of the stigmatized sex industry can also be difficult, Little said, as background checks can shed light on what work permit cards prostitutes in brothels must have.
Allissa Starr, who worked in the brothel at Sheri’s Ranch in Pahrump about an hour outside of Las Vegas, said some women she has worked with illegally offer sex for money despite virus concerns.
“They only do what they can,” she said.
Starr, like Little, began offering virtual dates where she could share a glass of wine, dinner, and conversations with customers. Starr said she eventually got support under the federal pandemic gig worker unemployment program, but it was about 10% of what she did and it will run out soon.
Starr said she could cover her bills but no longer save thousands. She moved to Pittsburgh to live closer to the family and to save on rent. She starts a self-catering business, but said when Nevada’s brothels reopened, she would come back to work for a week a month.
“It’s a way to simply provide money for me and my family, and it’s a way to provide security,” Starr said.
Reopening the brothels, Starr said, was “a personal risk, just like traveling. If you wear your mask if the girls received COVID tests before coming to the ranch, I think it can be done safely. “
The Mustang Ranch, about 20 miles east of Reno, appears to be the only brothel that still offers some kind of camaraderie and uses an escort license that has been around for about two decades. The license allows customers to hire women for non-sexual companionship.
Owner Lance Gilman said temperatures are measured, masks are worn, and customers need to come to the ranch and tell where they are going on a date, usually a restaurant or casino.
Gilman said it was a greatly reduced surgery – typically around 30 women were available around the clock. Only three or four women work as escorts because many of them are uncomfortable leaving the security of the property for a date, he said.
Mustang Ranch submitted a plan to state officials proposing to reopen contactless data in private rooms with masks and gloves worn by workers.
“In this industry, much, if not the majority, of courtesan-customer interaction involves no physical contact, even during normal business operations,” the proposal reads.
State officials did not approve the plan.
When asked how the brothel could ensure that sex workers and customers behind closed doors have no physical contact, Gilman said there is no way to give such a guarantee: “You can only count on the credibility and ethics of those who are received Leave obligations. “
“Human nature is human nature,” he said.
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