RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Texas woman who says she was forced into prostitution at a legal Nevada brothel has filed a lawsuit seeking to outlaw all bordellos in the state under a century old U.S. law prohibiting the transport of women across state lines for prostitution.
Rebekah Charleston also wants a federal judge to order the state to deposit $2 million in a contingency fund annually to assist people seeking to leave the sex trade, including providing mental health services, job training, child care, scholarships and tattoo removal.
Her lawyer cites the Mann Act of 1910 in the federal civil suit filed in Reno on Monday against Nevada’s governor and Legislature.
The law criminalized the interstate or foreign commerce transport “of any woman or girl for prostitution, debauchery or for any other immoral purpose.”
“The primary intent was to combat prostitution, immorality and human trafficking for the purposes of prostitution in the United States,” according to Jason Guinasso, her Reno-based attorney.
Nevada law legalizing houses of prostitution in rural counties outside Las Vegas and Reno is in violation of the U.S. Constitution because “the brothel industry in Nevada openly notoriously persuades, induces, entices and coerces individuals to travel in interstate commerce to commit acts of prostitution,” the suit said.
It asks a judge to strike down the local brothel ordinances in seven rural counties where a total of 21 bordellos now operate and declare them unconstitutional, null and void as pre-empted by federal law.
“Prostitution is modern day slavery. Like those subjected to slavery, the prostituted are subject to domination and to the arbitrary will of another person,” the suit says.
Guinasso served as a lawyer for a Nevada group, “No Little Girl,” which launched an unsuccessful campaign to end prostitution in Lyon County through a ballot measure last year.
Legal brothel operators argue the women who work there are safer than those who engage in illegal prostitution on the streets.
“Guinasso’s actions will put thousands of women back into the hands of pimps working illegally,” said Lance Gilman, a northern Nevada real estate developer and owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel, which opened east of Reno in 1971 as the first formally sanctioned in the state.
Gilman said all workers there are independent contractors who undergo FBI background checks annually and regular health checkups to guard against sexually transmitted diseases.
He said he intends to file a motion to become a party in the lawsuit arguing on behalf of the named defendants, Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Nevada Legislature.
Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for Nevada’s attorney general’s office, said Tuesday they don’t comment on pending litigation. Sisolak’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Charleston, who now serves as executive director of a group based in Colleyville, Texas, that works to eradicate sexual exploitation, said a boyfriend forced her into prostitution when she was living on the streets as a homeless runaway. She says he traded her to a sex trafficker who eventually forced her to get a job at a brothel in Lyon County east of Carson City.
The suit cites a series of audits conducted by the Lyon County sheriff’s office last year that found 168 of the 241 applicants for prostitute work cards there reside in a state other than Nevada and must travel to Nevada to engage in prostitution at the brothel. Thirty-seven of those traveled in foreign commerce to do so in 2017-18, the audit said.
“The women who have been trafficked through Nevada’s legal brothel market have been subject to the deprivation of rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution,” the suit said.
Gilman said Guinasso would be better off trying to help illegal prostitutes escape from their pimps, working to outlaw the distribution of handbills on the Las Vegas Strip for illegal prostitution services and cracking down on illegal sexual services at massage parlors.
“His entire complaint is about illegal prostitution and trafficking, which has no relationship to licensed brothels in Nevada,” Gilman said.