By BOB HERBERT
New York Times
September 4, 2007
There is probably no city in America where women
are treated worse than in Las Vegas.
The tone of systematic, institutionalized
degradation is set by the mayor, Oscar Goodman,
who told me in an interview that the city would
reap "tremendous" benefits if a series of
"magnificent brothels" could be established to
cater to johns from across the country and around
"I've said there should be the beginning of a
discussion of that," said Mr. Goodman, a former
defense lawyer for mobsters who unabashedly
describes his city as an adult playground where
"anything goes - as long as you don't go over the
Most of the lines in Vegas have long since been
erased. It is without a doubt, as the
psychologist and researcher Melissa Farley, says,
"the epicenter of North American prostitution and
Vegas is a place where women and girls by the
tens of thousands are chewed up by the vast and
astonishingly open sex trade. You can be sitting
at a traffic light and a huge mobile billboard
will drive past, promising, "Hot Babes - Direct
to Your Room."
I was drawn to this story by an advance copy of
Ms. Farley's book-length report, "Prostitution
and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the
Connections." It's being published online today.
The report explores what Oscar Goodman doesn't
appear to understand: the horrendous toll that
prostitution, legal or illegal, takes on the
women and girls involved. If you peel back the
thin, supposedly sexy veneer of the commercial
sex trade, you'll quickly see the rotten inside,
where females are bought, sold, raped, beaten,
shamed and in many, many cases, physically and
Start with the fact that so many of those who are
pulled into the trade are so young - early-20s,
late-teens and younger. Child prostitutes by the
hundreds pass through the Family Division
courtroom of Judge William Voy, who views the
hapless, vulnerable girls as victims and tries to
help them. The girls he sees are as young as 12,
with the average age being 14.
He told me about a 14-year-old who was seven
months pregnant by her pimp. She was suffering
from a sexually transmitted disease, had a drug
problem, was undernourished and still craved a
relationship with the pimp. "These cases will
tear your heart out," the judge said.
Ms. Farley was asked to study the Nevada sex
trade and its consequences 2 1Ž2 years ago by
John Miller, who at the time headed the U.S.
State Department's effort to fight human
trafficking around the world. Prostitution is
legal in some parts of Nevada but not in Vegas,
where 90 percent of the state's prostitution
occurs. Vegas is a world-class embarrassment to
any U.S. official attempting to reduce
prostitution and trafficking in foreign countries.
"We did surveys of people on the street," said
Ms. Farley, "and nearly half thought prostitution
was legal in Las Vegas. Guess why that is?
There are more than 150 pages of ads in the Las
Vegas yellow pages for "college teens," "mature
women," "mothers and daughters," "petite Japanese
women," "Chinese teens in short skirts" and every
other variation imaginable. I asked Mayor Goodman
about that, and he said: "We've changed that a
little bit. They used to have pictures."
Sex clubs with teenage girls dancing nude and
offering lap dances to johns are legal,
ubiquitous and widely advertised. Many of those
girls are either prostitutes or one short step
What is not widely understood is how coercive all
aspects of the sex trade are. The average age of
entry into prostitution is extremely young. The
prostitutes are ruthlessly controlled by pimps,
club owners and traffickers. In the case of legal
prostitution, they are controlled by their own
pimps and the brothel owners - pimps who have
been legalized by the state.
The women are exploited in every way. Most of the
money they receive from johns goes to the pimps,
the brothel owners, the escort service managers
and so forth. Strippers and lap dancers have to
pay for the right to dance in the clubs, and the
money they get in tips has to be shared with the
club owners, bartenders, bouncers, etc.
Huge numbers of foreign women are trafficked into
Vegas. The legions of Asian women in the massage
parlors and escort services did not come flocking
to Vegas from suburban U.S.A.
Mayor Goodman said that he is no fan of illegal
prostitution, but is convinced the legal variety
could be a boon. He is proud of his city's
tourist slogan: "What happens here, stays here."
Back in the '90s, Las Vegas tried hard to promote a family-friendly image.
"That ended when I became mayor," said Mr. Goodman.