Penn & Teller Think Nevada’s Brothels are A-OK

Magicians Penn & Teller have a series on Showtime called Penn & Teller: Bullshit! The show’s website declares:

In Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, the crusaders utilize principles of magic and trickery, as well as good old fashioned “hidden camera” sting operations, to smoke out these nonsense peddlers and reveal how they operate.

They also call upon the scientific community for back-up. Penn & Teller have discovered that the evidence debunking bogus operatives exists in countless books, scientific papers and government-sponsored exposés – research that nobody else has presented to the public with such zeal, passion, and conviction.

As our increasingly anti-intellectual, anti-science culture moves on each day to new crackpot subject matters, Penn & Teller are there to aggressively shoot down whack-jobs and fuzzy thinkers, no matter where they originate.
When it comes to Nevada’s legal brothels, Penn & Teller could use a dose of their own medicine. Their segment about prostitution is summarized as follows:

Everyone knows that prostitution is practiced throughout the land. Where it is legal – in only a few Nevada counties, prostitution is vigorously regulated and monitored by the State of Nevada Health Department. The women submit to compulsory medical tests for STDs. No one is forced to work as a prostitute. Pimps don’t exist. HIV has never been detected. The women earn regular paychecks and tips. Some even get vacation and sick days. And they pay taxes! It’s BULLSHIT that it’s illegal for two consenting adults to have sex with each other!
This fuzzy thinking is debunked in Melissa Farley’s new book, Prostitution & Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections. Farley shows that life inside Nevada’s legal “pussy penitentiaries” is far from safe, glamorous, or remunerative. The prostitutes are often locked in. Many were sexually abused as children. Fines, tips and the owner’s share typically cut into half the workers’ earnings or more. “More than 80% of those interviewed told Farley they wanted to leave prostitution.” The Guardian reports:

“The physical appearance of these buildings is shocking,” says Farley. “They look like wide trailers with barbed wire around them – little jails.” The rooms all have panic buttons, but many women told her that they had experienced violent and sexual abuse from the customers and pimps…

From 1987, prostitutes in Nevada have been legally required to be tested once a week for sexually transmitted diseases and monthly for HIV. Customers are not required to be tested. The women must present their medical clearance to the police station and be finger-printed, even though such registration is detrimental: if a woman is known to work as a prostitute, she may be refused health insurance, face discrimination in housing or future employment, or endure accusations of unfit motherhood. In addition, there are countries that will not permit registered prostitutes to settle, so their movement is severely restricted…

According to Farley’s research though, most women in legal brothels have pimps outside anyway, be they husbands or boyfriends. And, as Chong Kim, a survivor of prostitution who has worked with Farley, says, some of the legal brothel owners “are worse than any pimp. They abuse and imprison women and are fully protected by the state…”

One former Nevada brothel worker wrote on a website: “After your airline tickets, clothing, full-price drinks and other miscellaneous fees you leave with little…”
Prostitution is not simply about two consenting adults having sex with each other. It’s about a john paying someone for something they can’t get (no one will give them) for free. The potential for abuse is obvious, as is the evidence of harm:

About 80% of women in prostitution have been the victim of a rape…

A Canadian Report on Prostitution and Pornography concluded that girls and women in prostitution have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average…

In one study, 75% of women in escort prostitution had attempted suicide. Prostituted women comprised 15% of all completed suicides reported by hospitals…
There are plenty of jobs in America that you are not allowed to pay people to do (see OSHA). The people have judged that the risks to the employees are too great, the benefits to society too small, and employees are too vulnerable to coercion. Banning prostitution is a matter of workplace safety and employee protection. Do Penn & Teller propose to roll back workplace regulations in all fields?

Of course, if you’re going to ban prostitution, you need to do it right. As Sweden has shown, that means cracking down on pimps and johns while getting the prostitutes the help they need and want. This approach has been as successful as it is popular (80% of people in favor according to national opinion polls).

When it comes to prostitution, Penn & Teller would do well to set their libertarian blinders aside and see the world as it is.

See also:

Prostitution Research & Education: How Prostitution Works
Real sexual relationships are not hard to find. There are plenty of adults of both sexes who are willing to have sex if someone treats them well, and asks. But there lies the problem. Some people do not want an equal, sharing relationship. They do not want to be nice. They do not want to ask. They like the power involved in buying a human being who can be made to do almost anything…

The Guardian, “Eradicate the oldest profession”
Those hoping to see the government support decriminalisation of brothels will be disappointed by the Home Office review, as will those advocating tolerance zones. Where such zones have been tried they have failed. One zone in Melbourne resulted in street prostitution increasing fourfold. In Amsterdam drug dealing, trafficking and violence towards the women and customers in the zone led to it being closed in 2003…

A Thought Experiment for Those Who Want to Legalize Prostitution
Record: How many vaginal tears? Level of soreness? How many tears in the anus? Level of soreness? Do you have an infection? Colorful bruising? Sore jaws? Sores in the mouth? Unwanted pregnancy? Did you get an STD even though you used a condom? (condoms break, guys refuse to use condoms, guys pretend to use condoms, or condoms fall off inside the orifice during course of intercourse). Did you need drugs or alcohol to dissociate from the work? Do you feel psychologically liberated? Or, psychologically devastated? How so? Anyone stalking you? If so, fear level? Were you pressured to perform an act that you didn’t want to, but consented to anyway?

“Trade – A Film Brings Sex Trafficking Home”
Trade makes it clear that traffickers do not operate in a vacuum. Theirs is a complex and determined industry, enslaving both women and children through coercion, violence, and drugs. It is painfully apparent in the film that there are often moments when everyday people could intervene – but choose not to…

New York Times: The Girls Next Door; Worldwide Sex Trafficking; Role of Porn

Realities of Teen Prostitution Mock Notions of ‘Sex Work’, ‘Sex-Positive’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Empowerment’; Media Glamorizes Pimps

Penn State Law Professors Trot Out ‘Female Porn Leaders’ to Whitewash Realities of Adult Industry (explicit language)

Porn Worker Conditions: “Who failed Lara Roxx?” (explicit language)
[To film a special effects scene where someone gets shot,] I had to hire a pyrotechnician licensed by the state. I also had to hire a county fire marshal, who monitored the pyrotechnician and had the authority to stop any behavior deemed unsafe. If you add in the city cops I was legally required to retain for crowd control, the actors and crew on my set had three levels of protection provided by government agencies.

Lara Roxx had zero protection by government agencies. There was no cop on that set. No fire marshal. No doctor. Nobody had a license. And nobody broke the law by paying a teenager to accept the uncovered penises of two men into her anus.

Roxx showed poor judgment, yes. She isn’t blameless. But there are plenty of neophyte stunt performers in L.A. who would also be delighted to show some poor judgment and get themselves hurt or killed on a Hollywood movie set–but the government regulates those sets…

The 18-year-olds flooding into the porn industry have just about nobody. The porn companies label them “independent contractors,” so the performers don’t even have the workplace safety protections that fry cooks at Burger King do…

It’s important for porn to be legal. The government has no business outlawing sex or sexual fantasy. But this principle is not so sacred that we need to allow an industry to exploit and endanger its workers. There’s no fundamental right to express HIV.

Testimony in Los Angeles: Peter Bogdanovich on Porn and Hollywood
The pornographers and their supporters are so powerful, and the connection between the pornography industry and the legitimate entertainment industry is so intimate, that directors and producers and writers and creative people of all kinds do not feel able to take a stand against pornography because they’re going to be blackmailed by legitimate studios, distribution houses, etc. Some say, “Just wait till I get this distributed, then I’ll be free to go down and tell you what I know,” or “I’m waiting to sell a TV show…” The real story is that people are intimidated out of speaking by those in power over their lives…