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In an Observer piece on Nevada’s prostitution downturn, “Sex feels the credit squeeze in Nevada,” Andrew Clark presents few new details about the recession’s belt-tightening pimps. The “Sex feels the credit squeeze in [jurisdiction]” story has been written before in this recession, and the piece follows the familiar formula:

1. Declare that prostitution is a business “like any other.”

2. Detail how prostitution is hurting from the recession—-like any other business.

3. Throw in some sex-work details in attempt to redeem the story from the boilerplate-recession-story grave you’ve just dug for it.

One of Clark’s sexy business details caught my eye, however. The interesting part of the story isn’t that men are now less willing to pay for sex than they used to be. It’s that women were willing to work at these places before the recession hit:

Women who work in Nevada brothels are regarded as independent contractors who typically stay for a few weeks or months at a time. But while in situ they are not allowed to leave the premises and have to be ready to parade in a “line-up” within three minutes if a client arrives. At Sheri’s, the property is adorned with red lights and a Tannoy system to call women to attend. If they are late, they can be fined.

Being confined to a desert compound, forbidden from leaving the premises, and corralled to work over a PA system at a moment’s notice in order to perform sex acts on demand? Sounds like a labor camp—-or worse, reality television. Names like the “Chicken Ranch,” “Moonlight Bunny,” and the “Cherry Patch” don’t do much to add dignity to the equation.

Clark is right that the brothel business conforms to your standard economic-downturn story: With more women attracted to sex work and less men willing to fork over their salaries, prostitutes camped out at a brothel are finding fewer and fewer men to fuck. But the peculiar conditions of “independent contractor” work at many Nevada brothels make prostitution a business quite different. When prostitutes are forced to stay on the ranch for the extent of their contract, they’re being denied all other economic opportunities in the meantime. They’re prevented not only from servicing competing brothels, but from pursuing jobs in other sectors—-and building career skills for when they choose to move off the ranch. With business slowing down, contractors are now being forced to sacrifice outside opportunity for a less impressive payoff. I say, free the chickens, the cherries, and the moonlight bunnies!

photo by adamsofen