ever wondered what goes on in Nevada's legal brothels? Looking to give your assumptions a jolt? Harvard medical school grad Alexa Albert's awesome study is a must-read.
Brothel is unique because Albert was able to secure the one thing that matters -- access. Looking to prepare a study on condoms, AIDS and prostitution, she lived at Mustang Ranch for seven months, got in tight with the 53 women who work there and expanded her mandate to develop a clear-eyed and empathetic piece that covers all the bases.
Albert gets inside the walls of a brothel (since closed down by the courts because of financial wrongdoing), goes with a rookie to get her licence from the state commission, experiences the lineups where the johns choose up, interviews the women whose bodies are for hire.
And then she does the math. The sex workers make good bucks, an average of about $150,00 a year, but not without paying a price. They're virtually penned within the ranch, forbidden to leave on weekends. Because of the stigma attached to prostitution, the majority are supporting families who can never know how they make their money. And most of them -- and this is a bit of a shocker, given the arguments used to defend brothels -- are still handing their dough to pimps.
Albert remains wholly respectful of her subjects. She gives them their own voice, exposes the bigotry of those who put them down and, getting back to her original research, reports that the number of AIDS deaths connected to legalized prostitution is exactly zero.
The issue of sex work is almost always divisive. That's because people have trouble grasping the fact that two things can be true at the same time: prostitution is an exploitative institution, and sex workers have the right to work in safety and dignity. Brothel is proof that Albert gets this. She'll make a good doctor. Too bad she didn't decide to become a journalist.
BROTHEL: MUSTANG RANCH AND ITS WOMEN by Alexa Albert (Random House), 271 pages, $37.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN