Prostitution prohibitionist Melissa Farley of San Francisco is back in the news, hopping on the bandwagon of those who want to shut down brothels in Nye and Lyon counties.
“In order to better understand the impact of Nevada legal prostitution on college-aged men and on the community, University of Nevada, Reno Professor Mary Stewart, Kyle Smith and I did some research on UNR students’ attitudes toward prostitution, women and rape,” she wrote in a Reno Gazette Journal essay. “We asked students at other U.S. universities the same questions and then compared them. We found out that more often than other U.S. students, the Reno students were active sex trade consumers. They went to strip clubs more often, and they went to both legal and illegal brothels more often. In contrast to students from other parts of the United States where prostitution is illegal, the UNR students were more accepting of sexual violence against not just women in prostitution but against non-prostituting women as well. They tended to think it was impossible to rape a prostitute, which is one reason it’s so dangerous for the women in the brothels. The young men at UNR also believed the myth that legal prostitution protects non-prostitutes from rape. In fact, the opposite is true: Nevada’s rape rates are higher than the U.S. average, and Reno’s rape rate is much higher than most other U.S. cities. Nevada has been named one of the most dangerous states in the U.S., and Reno cited as having a high rate of sexual assault.”
Read that closely. Take note that Farley makes quite a leap between sentence seven and sentence eight. She seems to be drawing cause-and-effect between legal, small county prostitution and Nevada’s rape rate and other dangers in the state’s lifestyle. But note also that she offers no evidence for this linkage.
Farley may not be familiar enough with Nevada to know that this state has always been one of the most dangerous states. It appeared on the cover of Colliers magazine in that role in 1955—before brothel prostitution was legal—and on the front page of the New York Times in 2001. There are innumerable indices—teen pregnancy, prenatal care, voter turnout, suicide by senior citizens, suicide generally, tobacco use, tobacco-related death, alcohol- and drug-related death, firearms death, children’s health, health generally, health insurance coverage, homicide against women, rate of working people in poverty, toxic releases, child immunizations—that put Nevada at the wrong end of national lists. Brothels cannot cause them all, and evidence is needed to show they cause any of them.
Nevadans are likely more aware of our state’s poor quality of life than most, but prostitution prohibition is not a remedy. Our problems do not have easy answers. It may increase the danger for women who go from brothel to street. Prostitution scholar Ellen Pillard of Reno once told Congressional Quarterly, “We ought to license [the women] because the current situation is like licensing pimps.” That, at least, is a remedy that does not involve prohibition.
As alcohol and drug prohibition have shown us, prohibition is not the answer to the disapproval of morals cops to activities that a substantial portion of the public want. Rather, it usually leads to the spread of the alleged evil.