Sexual exploitation lost an ally last Tuesday, Oct. 16 with the passing of brothel owner/rising politician Dennis Hof.

Hof was the owner of several legal brothels throughout Nevada as well as a candidate for the Nevada Assembly’s 36th District which covers a portion of the state north of Las Vegas and includes towns such as Beatty and Pahrump. Hof was an obvious opponent of Lyon County Question 1 which asks, “Shall the Lyon County Board of Commissioners rescind Title 3, Chapter 5, the Lyon County Brothel Ordinance, in order to end brothels and legalized prostitution in Lyon County, Nevada?”

Hof owned four brothels in Lyon County, all of which recently underwent an audit by the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office found several violations involving inadequate licensure and immigration violations aka indicators of human trafficking.

While we acknowledge and respect that some sex workers are in total control of their actions and finances, there are too many who are not. No little girl dreams of selling her body when she grows up. Women who enter into the sex trade often experienced sexual abuse, poverty and other highly stressful and traumatic events prior to entering the sex industry.

Legal prostitution and human trafficking are not the same, although the presence of the former increases the likelihood of the latter. A legal prostitute is someone who performs sexual acts on their own terms in exchange for money which they get to keep. A human trafficking victim is someone who is coerced or forced to perform sexual acts on the terms and for the profit of their owner or “pimp”.

Specifically, the LCSO reports that 83 employees indicated that they were involved in human trafficking; 14 employees were under federal review at the time of the audit for immigration violations including unlawful entry and fraud and identity theft; 25 employees had dual prostitute licenses in other counties (indicative of movement from one brothel to the next); 19 employees disclosed prior prostitution convictions in places where prostitution is illegal (indicating they might still belong to a pimp).

The LCSO also cited numerous incidents of inadequate background checks (which could be used to identify human trafficking victims) and numerous employees with unstable addresses, and extensive records of quality-of-life-type crimes.

What the presence of inadequate licensure and immigration violations suggests — as the two often appear concurrently — is that employees with these particular violations may have been brought to Lyon County from other states or countries by human traffickers against their will or under false pretenses.

According to Awaken, a local organization that provides resources to sex workers, 81 percent of women working in Nevada’s brothels want out. According to this study, which analyzed prostitution in nine countries including the U.S., 63 percent of prostitutes were raped and 71 percent were physically assaulted while on the job. Awaken reports the types of violence these women endure include being kicked, punched, robbed, strangled, kidnapped, burnt with cigarettes, cut and urinated on. Consequently, many female sex workers meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and drug dependence.

Not to mention that 27 percent of Awaken’s clients in 2017 were under the age of 18.

Even though not all sex workers are women, prostitution is a manifestation of an ugly, timeless dynamic of gender oppression. Awaken reports that 98 percent of people bought in prostitution are women and 99 percent of the buyers are men.

Many people like to believe that human trafficking is a problem that only exists in underdeveloped countries and that all of the sex workers in Nevada operate with their own agency under completely legal and safe circumstances.

Wake up, Nevada. This is not “Pretty Woman”. This is an industry that profits off of the abuse and exploitation of thousands of women and children leaving behind a population of people that society typically looks down on and slut-shames.

Sex workers don’t need your judgment or ridicule, they need your empathy. They need Nevada voters to criminalize prostitution in all counties. They need Nevada voters to reject the legislation and the “what happens here, stays here” culture that allows for human beings to be bought and sold.

The Editorial Board can be reached at mpurdue@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.