Nevada sex industry reacts to suit to ban brothels

Rebekah Charleston

Rebekah Charleston

The lawsuit filed by Texas resident Rebekah Charleston and her Reno-based lawyer Jason Guinasso seeking to ban legal prostitution in Nevada undermines voters and could have broader repercussions for states’ and industry workers’ rights, according to Onesta Foundation Executive Director Bella Cummins, but she’s hopeful her organization can open communications and shed a different light on the complex situation.

Guinasso’s lawsuit filed in federal court in February names the state of Nevada, the Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak, asserting brothels are in direct violation of two laws that make it illegal to bring others outside state borders for human trafficking.

But the effort has stirred up negative reaction. The Mustang Ranch, the state’s first legal brothel owned by Lance Gilman in Storey County, recently announced its intentions to join in against the lawsuit.

And Cummins said while she acknowledges a hard look is necessary from all sides politically, legally and concerning the workers’ and public’s safety, she said she’d hoped to show where the potential impacts might come.

“In Jason Guinasso’s fervor, he has brought to everyone’s attention that change is required, so I thank him for that,” Cummins writes in her statement. “I still want to help him to understand that his efforts are misdirected.”

Cummins says she takes issue with the loss of anonymity for the workers if their records were to be revealed, which would occur under subpoena with the lawsuit, but, moreover, it appears to be a solo effort, she said.

“He is really working to invalidate what the voters said and made completely clear what their preference is,” said Steve Funk, spokesman for Cummins who has assisted with her advocacy efforts and in the development of Onesta. “People have a right to choose, and they made a choice.”

Since Onesta’s inception, Cummins and Funk said they have held dozens of meetings with state legislators to discuss questions of enforcement, whether it’s possible to update the Nevada Revised Statutes and how to better protect the rights of sex workers.

“There is no bill or activity that we feel we should be concerned about at this point, but we feel we’re doing a good job for them to consider (our perspective) and we’ve made great progress with the leadership on down, and we feel we will move forward,” Funk said. “We’re not lawyers, we’re not policymakers, so we’ve done the work on the side to take the NRS statutes … and it’s a process.”

Cummins said just having the opportunity to be heard has been enlightening.

“We have an opportunity to work it out through education, through an understanding,” Cummins said. “Otherwise it looks like a legal fight no one ever wins. … It’s about doing it safely, free choice, free will, where there’s harm to none and we allow people to be people without manipulating one another.

“Men chase women, that’s just what happens,” she said.


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