Where Is Prostitution Legal In The US?
Many feel prostitution is a victimless crime, only made dangerous as a result of its unregulated status and the fact that prostitutes cannot turn to authorities for help when exposed to violence or other criminal acts. Others feel that the prostitutes themselves are often the victims, and point to human trafficking, slavery, and violence against prostitutes as proof of that point.
Regardless of which side of the debate one takes, there are still a number of factual and legal considerations when it comes to prostitution in the United States.
Prostitution in Nevada
Nevada is the only state in the union where prostitution is legal. However, Nevada permits prostitution only in licensed brothels located in just eight counties in the state.
What is Prostitution and Solicitation in Nevada?
Nevada law defines prostitution as engaging in sexual conduct for a fee. Sexual conduct includes sexual intercourse, oral-genital contact, or any touching of the genitalia or other intimate parts of a person in order to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of either person. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295.)
It is a misdemeanor crime in Nevada to engage in or solicit (that is, seek out) prostitution except in a licensed house of prostitution. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.354.) A person who seeks out sexual conduct for a fee (also known as a "john") is soliciting prostitution. The crime of solicitation increases to a felony, with greater penalties, if the john solicits a person under the age of 18. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.295 (3).)
Where is it legal?
Nevada law prohibits solicitation and prostitution unless it takes place in a licensed house of prostitution. State law bans licensed brothels in counties with populations of 700,000 or more (currently Clark County, home of Las Vegas).
Only 10 counties in Nevada allow prostitution, and even then, only within licensed brothels. Churchill County allows prostitution, but the last brothel license was surrendered in 2004.
Esmeralda, Lander, Mineral, Nye and Storey County allow brothels throughout. Elko, Humboldt, Lyon, and White Pine County only allow brothels in some incorporated communities.
Prostitution is illegal in Clark, Washoe, Carson City, Pershing, Douglas, Eureka and Lincoln counties. That includes Las Vegas and Reno, as well as the state capital.
How many brothels are there?
A count by the L.A. Times in early May revealed there are 20 operational brothels in Nevada.
Nye County has four, including two owned by Dennis Hof. Lyon County has four, all of which are owned by Hof.
There is also one in Storey County, the Mustang Ranch in Sparks; one in Mineral County, the Wild Cat Brothel in Mina; two in White Pine County, the Stardust Ranch Brothel and Big 4 Ranch in Ely; one in Lander County, Hot Desert Club Girls in Battle Mountain; and seven in Elko County, the Dove Tail Ranch and Sharon’s Brothel and Bar in Carlin, the Desert Rose Gentlemen's Club, Inez’s D&D, Mona’s Ranch and Sue’s Fantasy Club in Elko and Bella’s Hacienda Ranch and Donna’s Ranch in Wells.
Read More: Where Prostitution Is Legal In Nevada
Does Nevada tax prostitution?
Although brothels and prostitutes pay a state business license fee, there is no excise tax on sex acts.
In 2009, Democratic then-state Sen. Bob Coffin introduced a bill to apply a $5-per-day tax for customers buying prostitution services. With an estimated 400,000 customer days in Nevada legal brothels each year, the measure was expected to bring in $2 million.
The bill failed a committee vote and didn’t move forward in the Legislature even though prostitutes and others in the industry voiced their support for a tax. Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons had earlier expressed his disapproval of the bill, telling NPR: "I'm not a supporter of legalizing prostitution in Nevada. So by taxing it, there's a recognition of the legality of it. And that's all I want to say."
Has Nevada tried to end legal prostitution?
|Photo: The Nevada Independent|
In 2011, Democratic then-Sen. Harry Reid called on legislators to ban prostitution in a speech to lawmakers.
“Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment – not as the last place where prostitution is still legal,” he said, adding that he’d met with visiting business leaders who were shocked to learn there were operational brothels in Storey County.
But legislators never took up the cause, and Gov. Brian Sandoval said the matter was up to individual counties.
A new movement to ban prostitution in select counties has cropped up this spring. Efforts are underway to ban prostitution in Lyon and Nye counties through county-wide votes.
Laws Governing Brothels in Nevada
Although prostitution is legal in Nevada, it is subject to many restrictions. And, as noted above, outside of licensed brothels in the eight counties where it is legal, prostitution is a crime. Even in the counties where prostitution is legal, there are limits on brothel locations and who may work at them.
Restrictions on Brothel Location
A brothel licensed in Nevada may not be operated within 400 yards of a school or house of worship. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.380.)
Nevada also outlaws the operation of a brothel in a building that fronts, or has entrances or exits onto, a principal business street or thoroughfare anywhere in the state. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.390.) This law extends to owners of property that is rented to others.
Anyone arrested for prostitution must submit to a test to detect exposure to the human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV"). (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.356.) And, anyone who engages in prostitution, even in a licensed brothel, after being notified that he or she tested positive for HIV (whether as a result of a court-ordered test after arrest or otherwise) may be charged with a felony. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.358.)
How Are Prostitution-Related Crimes Punished in Nevada?
The penalties for prostitution and related crimes differ based on the particular crime. As noted above, if the prostitute is under 18 years of age, the penalties are increased substantially.
Prostitution and Solicitation
A person convicted of the misdemeanor crime of either prostitution or solicitation in Nevada may face a jail term for not more than six months, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.354 (2), 193.150.) Community service may be ordered in lieu of jail or a fine.
A person convicted of felony solicitation of a person under the age of 18 in Nevada may face confinement in a jail for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.354 (3), 193.130 (2)(e).) And, a person convicted of soliciting a minor also may be ordered to register as a sex offender. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 179D.115.)
A person convicted of the felony of pandering (including transporting another to engage in prostitution) may face imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.300 (2)(a), 193.130 (2)(d).)
Where the defendant is convicted of pandering a person under the age of 18, the penalty increases to imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than 10 years, the fine increases to not more than $10,000, and the defendant also may be required to register as a sex offender. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.300 (2)(b), 193.130 (2)(b), 179D.115.) The court may also increase the fine imposed to up to $100,000 if the victim is between ages 14 and 18, or up to $500,000 if the victim is under the age of 14. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.352.)
A person convicted of the felony of receiving the earnings of a prostitute in Nevada may face imprisonment for not less than one year and not more than four years, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.320, 193.130 (2)(d).)
Violation Restrictions on Licensed Brothels
A Nevada court may impose a fine of not more than $500 for operating a brothel within 400 yards of a school or house of worship or fronting a principal business street or thoroughfare. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 201.380, 201.390.)
Engaging in Prostitution After Testing Positive for HIV
A person convicted of the felony of engaging in prostitution after learning that he or she has tested positive for HIV may face imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.358 (1)(b).)
Suspension or Revocation of Teaching Certificate
The State of Nevada may suspend or revoke the teaching certificate of a person on the basis of "immoral conduct" or after being charged with a crime involving "immorality or moral turpitude." (Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 391.330 (1), 391.314 (7).)
An Important Note on Local Legal Representation
If you have been charged with prostitution, prostitution-related crime, or any other sexual crime, see a lawyer experienced in criminal defense law in Nevada. If you are charged with any crime that carries the possible requirement that you register as a sex offender, it is imperative that you seek legal advice. Registering as a sex offender severely limits where you can work, live, and spend time, and it follows you even after the end of the registration period specified in the statute because it is in public databases and remains on your record. Do not delay in finding a lawyer.
How much revenue do brothels bring local governments?
It varies by county.
Last fiscal year, Nye County collected $141,779 in revenue from worker registration cards and brothel license fees.
Nye County brothels themselves face different licensing fees depending on size. Brothels of up to five prostitutes pay just over $2,300 per quarter. Brothels with 26 or more prostitutes working at once would pay $46,900 per quarter.
Lyon County brothels pay anywhere from about $20,000 to $26,000 a quarter in licensing fees, depending on how many rooms are in the business. In a year, the county brings in about $384,000 in brothel license, liquor license and business license fees from the four establishments.
“Those taxes support doctors, a police force, EMTs, and even the public schools,” Hof wrote in his book.
US - Federal Laws on Prostitution and State Laws on Prostitution (All 50 states and DC)
Presented below are federal laws on prostitution, state laws on prostitution, and Nevada county laws on prostitution. Prostitution is illegal in the United States with the exception of 10 Nevada counties. On Nov. 3, 2009, Rhode Island closed a legal loophole that had allowed indoor prostitution to exist since 1980. Most states punish the prostitute and the customer equally; however, nine states have harsher penalties for the customer (CO, KS, MA, MT, NE, NY, NC, TN, UT) and two have harsher penalties for the prostitute (DE, MN).
Nevada County Laws on Prostitution
According to Nevada state law it is unlawful for any person to engage in prostitution or solicitation except in a licensed house of prostitution [NRS 201.354]. Brothels are not permitted in a county whose population is 700,000 or more [NRS 244.345]. All prostitutes must use condoms [NAC 441A.805] and be tested weekly for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and monthly for HIV [NAC 441A.800].
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