Producer Notes: “New Debate on the Oldest Profession”

From producer Vicky Collins:

When I was a senior at St. Andrew's Priory in Honolulu I was selected
by my high school government class to spend a week at the Hawaii state
capitol observing the legislature. My assignment was to select one bill
under consideration, research it and follow it through the session. I
chose the effort to legalize prostitution. At the time, Hawaii had a
very active sex industry. My school was close to Hotel Street where the
ladies of the night did business.  The bill eventually died (I don't
recall whether it was in committee or if it actually got to the floor)
and prostitution continues to be illegal in the 50th state, as it is in
all states except Nevada.

Recently I revisited the subject of prostitution for a story I'm
working on for HDNet World Report.  What got the report off the ground
was Senator Harry Reid's speech before Nevada's legislature on February
22 in which he called for "an adult conversation" about ending
legalized prostitution throughout the state.  Prostitution is already
against the law in counties with more than 400,000 people, which
includes Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of
Reno.)  Senator Reid said that Nevada would be more business friendly
if the state finally eliminated legalized brothel prostitution from the
rural counties as well.  "Nevada needs to be known for innovation and
investment," Senator Reid said, "not as the last place where
protitution is still legal."  As you can imagine, his comments have
stirred up quite a pot.

The point of this blog is not to rehash the morality of the world's
oldest profession, nor is it to discuss the economic impact of brothels
in the rural areas of the state, or make the case that legalized
prostitution seems safer and smarter than its illegal cousin.  The
point of this blog is that this journey opened my eyes to the humanity
of women who do this kind of work.  Before I criss crossed Nevada
visiting brothels I had a predictable response to prostitutes.  They
were messed up and misguided.  Who could possibly do this kind of work?
  Why would anyone sell their body to a stranger unless they needed the
money to finance a drug addiction?  They must have a crushing amount of
baggage that would lead them to this lifestyle.  And, of course, many
do.  But the ladies we met in the rural and suburban brothels that dot
the landscape were attractive, smart, friendly, savvy, confident and
defied stereotypes.  Most were not fallen women without other options.
Many were educated and had goals in mind.  They were wives and mothers.
  This was a means to a different end.  And at least in the brothels,
pursuing their careers as independent contractors, they were confident
and satisfied.   Now I'm certain the lives of women who do this
illegally, on the streets, is much more dangerous and seedy. But in the
safety of the legal brothels we found women who do this with class and
dignity.

We met Asya at a small rural brothel called Donna's Ranch in Wells,
Nevada.  She had been working illegally on the street for years with a
pimp who eventually dumped her.  Asya cried when she told us how
painful that experience was.  But she chose to better herself.  She was
sweet and chatty and enjoyed flirting with the truckers over the CB
radio.  She smiled and batted her enormous false eyelashes and said she
loved her life.  Asya was going to do this for two more years then
wanted to start her own jazz bistro in her hometown of Houston.  She
said it would be "groovy."  Her friend, Simone, was a pretty blonde who
had finally escaped the streets.  She said she had so many arrests that
she would be in prison if she was busted once more.  She was happy here
with a big huge laugh and strong opinions.  She loved to help in the
kitchen and fancied herself a good cook.  She was saving to buy a house
and was proud to be paying her taxes and contributing to social
security.  "I do my part," she said.

At the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno we met Demi.  "This is not my
first passion, believe it or not," she told us.  Demi became a
prostitute to get through college and now owns a fashion boutique with
her mother in the Bay Area.  Her goal is to open one in Los Angeles.
"This is a means to an end for me to create my own life."  Emily, stood
out in a crowd.  She had cascades of platinum blonde hair and a girly
dress and once made $84,000 in a month.  She was living with her
grandmother and son in a car before she came here.  "I have options.  I
just choose to do this as my option."  She loves her job and her
enthusiasm was palpable.  Both wanted me to know how empowered they
felt and how proud they were to be Mustang girls.

Finally, at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada near Carson
City, we met Paige and Brooke.  Paige is a 19 year old, new to the
business.  She is studying nursing but hopes to become a physicians
assistant instead.  She had the body of an athlete and said she
participated in all sports in school.  She spent her free time trying
to perfect pole dancing in the parlor and was very good at it and
completely comfortable with the television camera.  And then there was
Brooke.  She is a household name for her role in HBO's series
"Cathouse" and was featured in Hustler.  She was beautiful and so smart
and articulate.  We figured she has a career as a politician or
lobbyist should she ever change course.  She came here of her own
accord.  Wasn't cutting it financially in Illinois working with adults
with developmental disabilities and figured she would try something
new.  "I'm using my best asset that I have been given which is myself,"
she proclaimed.  When we asked her if this was her long term career she
said "No.  I think I'm more of a free spirit than that.  When this is
not enjoyable, when it's not fulfilling, when the wind changes I'll
change with it.  Right now this works for me.  I'm having a good time,
I'm making a good living, setting up a good future for myself, able to
have the choice to do whatever I want.  And how lucky am I turning 30
to be able to say that.  Really."

This was one of the most interesting immersions of my career and I came
away from it with the realization that many of these women, at least in
the legal brothels, are comfortable in their skin and see this as a
career like any other.  They are not ashamed and seem to have a good
time and they are able to look at the men who come through their doors
with compassion.  Many prostitutes, believe it or not, go on to become
nurses.  It was an eye opening week for me.  Each of these women made
it clear to me they were doing this of their own volition.  They were
in charge of their lives.  They were calling their own shots.  You can
meet these young women on HDNet World Report on April 12.  See if they
don't make a big impression on you too.
For more on Vicky Collins' work, go to vickycollinsonline.com.

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