Eric_W's Reviews > Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women

Brothel by Alexa Albert
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's review
Jul 08, 2009

really liked it
Read in January, 2002

Every time I take the California Zephyr and go through Reno, the On Board Chief of Services, or one of his minions, never fails to point out the famous Mustang Ranch, located in a secluded valley twenty-some miles out of Sparks, Nevada. If you've ever been curious about what goes on, and why, in Nevada's brothels and the Mustang Ranch, in particular, you will find this a fascinating book. I did.

Ms. Albert, a public health specialist, had been interested for years in HIV and STD transmission and condom usage. She was curious to measure the impact of legalized prostitution on these parameters. Her first overtures to George Flint, ordained minister, wedding chapel owner, and executive director for the Nevada Brothel Association, were rebuffed, but she didn' give up. Flint realized she was a serious researcher and paved the way for her to spend several weeks living (not working) at the famous Mustang Ranch in Storey County, near Reno — not in Reno, and that distinction is important and has historical roots. Brothels can only be licensed legally in counties, and Reno and Las Vegas have chosen not to do so.

That is itself an interesting story, because one of the staunch opponents of legalized prostitution in Las Vegas has been Steve Wynn, wealthy casino owner, who publicly argues that it tarnishes the image of Las Vegas, gambling and former mob mecca of the world. Privately, many speculate that the real reason is that unlicensed, freelance prostitution, which thrives in Las Vegas, takes place in the hotels that own the casinos and therefore keeps the gamblers in the casinos where they belong. The brothels are all located in remote areas, away from the cities and that takes money away from the casinos. Brothels are prohibited from advertising, yet the freelancers have 140 pages in the Las Vegas Yellow Pages devoted to their activities which are completely unregulated.

A brothel can be a very substantial source of revenue for the county (4% of Storey County's total revenue in the case of the Mustang). Annual license fees in the hundreds of thousands are not rare, and the associated employment brings in needed additional tax revenue. Following the federal seizure of the Mustang Ranch for the failure of the owner to pay appropriate income taxes (he was a fugitive in Brazil and hiding the revenue under a false corporation), the brothel has been shut down until the courts can decide on the legality of the appeal of the conviction. The Feds had thought about running the brothel to bring in some revenue to pay the expenses of the prosecution, but that was deemed politically unwise.

The author came away from the experience a confirmed advocate of legalized prostitution. Customers and prostitutes are safe and the regulation is intense. Condom usage is mandatory, as are regular health checkups, and in fact no licensed prostitute has ever been diagnosed with HIV, although several applicants, who were refused licenses, had been. It's ironic, but the johns have virtually no control over their experience at the brothel except for the selection of the girl, and even that is often out of their control. If the word gets around that a particular john is impolite, routinely abusive, or just generally obnoxious, the word gets around, and the girls will walk him, i.e., quote impossibly high prices (as independent contractors they set their own prices, returning 50% to the brothel), and soon the john leaves, frustrated to say the least. In any case, the girls remain in complete control of the situation and each customer gets a thorough wash and genital examination to look for any sign of an STD. Many of the women see themselves as providing a valuable public service, and from her interviews with many of the clients, Ms. Albert would agree. For many of the men, it's their only form of social contact, and many even become quite addicted to it, even to the point where they subsidize the girls beyond what happens in the building, giving them extra clothes, helping with moving, the rent, etc. But to the majority of the women, a trick is still a trick, and they can be quite good at manipulating these relationships. Most of them are in it for the money, which can be very good. Some were persuaded by husbands, others by mothers!!, most by financial necessity, but many have worked for many years. Several insisted they can completely separate their professional lives from their personal, insisting they maintain a normal life at home with their husbands and families. But despite its legalization, the life lacks legitimacy, and those who work in the brothels as barkeeps, maids, vendors, and prostitutes develop a sense of community and family that provides structure and support that they often lack elsewhere. The brothel "had provided an income as well as friendship, compassion, trust and hope for countless women and men. In many ways, Mustang Ranch picked up where society had dropped the ball. It had provided a safe, nonjudgmental, economically sound work environment and a fair way for a community of several dozen women and their familles to meet their most basic needs. Whatever you think of prostitution and its legalization, this is an essential and very interesting read.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Brad (new)

Brad Excellent and very neutral review. Well done, Eric.

message 2: by D. (new)

D. Pow You da man, Welch!

message 3: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony Yes, I agree, well done, sir...

message 4: by Ben (new)

Ben I agree with them all. One of your best, Eric.

message 5: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Interesting!

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