Federal Lawsuit to Criminalize Nevada Brothels Is Thrown Out

CARSON CITY, Nev.—Remember Rebekah Charleston? She's the ex-prostitute (and good friend of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation) who filed a lawsuit in federal court earlier this year against the State of Nevada, its Governor and Legislature, in which she attempted to have the laws which allow Nevada's legal brothels to function declared unconstitutional. She and her two co-plaintiffs are represented by Jason Guinasso, a Lyon County official who's virulently anti-sex work—and on Tuesday, all three had their case dismissed by the Nevada District's Chief Judge Miranda M. Du for lack of standing.

Because the plaintiffs failed to meet the standing requirement, the legal issues involved in the case were not discussed in Judge Du's decision, but the judge did make clear why the plaintiffs, aside from their being residents of Texas, wouldn't have met the standing requirements even if they had lived in Nevada.

"Three elements must be met to establish standing," Judge Du wrote in the opinion issued October 29. "The plaintiffs must have '(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant [State of Nevada], and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.' ... The Court finds that Plaintiffs have not sufficiently established the three elements of standing."

Judge Du went on to state that the alleged "injury" must be "concrete and particularized" as well as "actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical," and "affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way"—none of which criteria could those plaintiffs possibly meet, since the wrongs they allege were committed against them took place several years ago, and they failed, in the Court's words, to "establish 'a line of causation' between defendants' actions and their alleged harm that is more than 'attenuated.'"

"Plaintiffs fail to plead any allegations—whether in the original complaint or FAC [First Amended Complaint]—from which this Court could conclude that Plaintiffs face a sufficient articulated risk that is 'real and immediate' to confer standing upon this Court," Judge Du wrote.

Finally, "the facts Plaintiffs allege do not demonstrate a likelihood that the primary relief Plaintiffs request—declaratory relief and injunction concerning legal prostitution in Nevada—will redress their alleged injuries as a result of being illegally forced into prostitution and being sex trafficked." In other words, criminalizing brothel work now would do nothing to reverse the fact that the Plaintiffs may have been forced into sex work years ago.

Charleston and her co-plaintiffs had claimed that although brothels are legal in certain Nevada counties, the federal criminal statutes which prohibit individuals from crossing state or international lines for the "immoral" purposes of prostitution (or sex trafficking)—specifically, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, and the 1910 Mann Act which was amended and added to the Federal Criminal Code in 2018—somehow supercede Nevada's own laws, despite the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment which reserves to states (or the people) any powers not delegated to the federal government.

Oh—and not only did Charleston et al. want Nevada's brothel laws thrown out, they also wanted the state to fund a "Nevada Sex Trade Exit Fund" to the tune of $2 million per year, for any sex workers who want to leave the profession.

The owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel near Reno had a few choice words to say about the lawsuit's dismissal.

"We are extremely pleased that the United States District Court deemed this lawsuit baseless and without merit and, as such, dismissed it," said Mustang Ranch owner Lance Gilman. "However, we are equally frustrated at the persistent and reckless attempts by Mr. Guinasso to ban Nevada’s historic brothel industry through incendiary allegations that are steeped in moral judgment rather than facts and education. This was a complete waste and misuse of taxpayer dollars and, from the very get-go, appears to have been done for political gain rather than the establishment of sound policy.

"Our foremost priority at the Mustang Ranch is the health and safety of the women that work in this industry and the guests that visit our establishment," he continued. "Sex trafficking is a very serious and personal issue for us and we are firmly committed to being an integral part of the solution to address it. It is unfortunate that, rather than work with us to ensure the safety and opportunity of these women, Mr. Guinasso and others have continued to persecute the industry and the women that work in it. Likewise, the significant amounts of time and resources that have been wasted on inflammatory lawsuits and desperate ballot initiatives could have and should have been spent developing solutions to get women off the streets and out of the hands of predators. Our invitation to earnestly learn about us and work with us remains open, not just to Mr. Guinasso, but to anyone who is interested to work with us to ensure Nevada’s brothels are run in a safe, responsible and upstanding manner."

Pictured: Rebekah Charleston giving a TEDx talk on sex trafficking