In 2011, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D — Nev.) went before a joint session of the Nevada State Legislature to call for “an adult conversation” about prostitution in the state.
“Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment – not as the last place where prostitution is still legal,” he said in a speech delivered to the Nevada Legislature.
«We should do everything we can to make sure the world holds Nevada in the same high regard you and I do,» Reid continued. «If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution.»
Reid’s call fell flat, and three years later, prostitution is still legal in Nevada in licensed brothels everywhere except Clark, Washoe, Douglas and Lincoln counties and Carson City. It has been accepted as an issue of individual rights and local control in the state, despite the fact that licensed brothels yield little in terms of revenue for the state. Brothels have been legal since 1971 in counties with populations below 700,000, and most of the opposition to outlawing them comes from casinos.
However, Las Vegas is hoping to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. Reid, a supporter of the city’s bid, has argued that even though prostitution is a misdemeanor in Las Vegas, the state’s stance on prostitution could be an issue.
“There are people who don’t come to the state of Nevada for a number of reasons, like our education system and the image that we have,” Reid said in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal. “And one of the images we have had, gambling, has long since [passed] as a negative. But prostitution hasn’t.”
Globally, the debate concerning legalized prostitution has been heating up, with brothels being used more and more to facilitate sex exploitation and human trafficking.
Germany relaxed almost all of its prostitution laws a decade ago in an attempt to improve working conditions for sex workers. The new regulations recognized sex work as a legal profession and allowed prostitutes to sue for wages and contribute to health, pension and unemployment insurance programs. Per studies quoted by der Spiegel, these regulations have resulted in 65 to 80 percent of all sex workers in Germany coming from abroad — mostly Romania and Bulgaria.
The legalization of the sex trade created a situation in Germany in which prostitutes are subjected to more customers for less money and business demands have forced sex workers to be brought in from a larger geographical region. Moreover, legalized prostitution has not reduced crime in Germany significantly, has not added to the social coverage of sex workers and has actually contributed to a degradation in working conditions. All of these facts lend to the notion that legalization is a failed idea — for Germany, at least.
With the Supreme Court of Canada recently striking down key components of Canada’s prostitution laws on the grounds of working conditions, and with the debate about legalized prostitution continuing in the U.S., the way the world buys sex is bound to change. What remains to be seen is whether these changes will be beneficial or not.