Vegas Sex Workers Demand Rights, Respect

By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
The Associated Press
Friday, July 14, 2006; 7:32 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Strippers and hookers are trying to get some respect in Sin City. The so-called sex workers demonstrated yesterday on the steps of the courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. They're calling for more legal protection and decriminalization of the world's oldest profession.

Starchild, a 36-year-old former Army Reservist stood amid rallying sex workers in Las Vegas on Thursday and boasted of his bid for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

"And that ballot is going to say 'escort/exotic dancer,'" he said, beaming.

Protesting prostitutes, strippers and men and women of the night said they came to the downtown courthouse steps to try enable others like Starchild _ active advocates for sex workers. The group called for more respect and stronger legal protections for legal and illegal workers in the sex industry. They complained that a series of new antihuman trafficking laws restrict their freedom and called for the decriminalization of the world's oldest profession.

"No one here would say prostitution is good for everyone," said Elizabeth Nanas, 33, a former prostitute and sex worker advocate who organized the rally to cap off a three-day conference. "We're saying the attention and money should be spent on areas where there are problems."

Organizers said the conference, sponsored by the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, was the largest meeting of academics, advocates and prostitutes in nearly 10 years. On the agenda were discussions on police brutality, online organizing and a lecture about journalism for sex workers.

"Overall, the biggest issue was looking at criminalization policies and asking, are they doing anything to stop prostitution? Are they protecting and empowering women? Are they making our communities safer?" said Kate Hausbeck, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas sociology professor and advocate. "Are they improving the health, safety and well-being of prostitutes?"

The group met in a state in which 10 rural counties allow prostitution in 28 operating brothels.

But the nation's only legal bordellos aren't a model for advocates, said Priscilla Alexander, a 67-year-old activist with COYOTE, a sex workers' rights organization. Nevada brothels often hire women to work for just weeks at a time, require prostitutes to live on the premises and mandate costly STD tests too frequently, she said.

"Most sex workers don't want to work in those restrictive conditions," she said.

Alexander said sex workers' claims of rape and violence too often are ignored by police, and some departments use scant evidence, like carrying condoms, as cause for arrests.

But she said one of the most pressing threats to sex workers were antihuman trafficking laws passed on the federal and state level that can be interpreted as applying to strippers, dancers and escorts.


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