The Family Prostitute 

As the recession continues, more and more women are turning to the world's oldest profession to support their loved ones

Thursday, Sep 2 2010
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As in the state's gaming and tourist industries, Flint says, the recession is taking a toll on the prostitution business as potential customers find themselves with less disposable income. "Right now," he says, "the brothel industry is in the toilet. Several houses are on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Only a couple of them are turning a profit."

View all photos in Kevin Scanlon's slideshow, "The Family Prostitute: Portraits of Women Brand-New to the Sex Trade."

One of the profitable brothels is the Love Ranch. A small compound of prefabricated portable buildings, it sits at the end of a cul-de-sac on Kit Kat Drive. In place of a street sign is a roughly designed billboard advertising what lies beyond the turn.

click to flip through (13) PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON - Chelsea, 26, used to work in a restaurant in Montrose. She’s now helping her parents pay their rent.
  • Chelsea, 26, used to work in a restaurant in Montrose. She’s now helping her parents pay their rent.

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The parlor of the Love Ranch is dimly lit and dominated by wingback furniture and red velvet plush in the Old West style. A closer look reveals that the upholstery is threadbare and frayed. Mirrors on one wall create the illusion that the room is bigger than it is. The other walls are covered with fake gilt-and-velvet paper. The cornerstone of the room is a small gas fireplace that's not being used in the heat of Nevada's high summer. Opposite is a small, six-stool bar well stocked with high-end spirits. A cloud of blue cigarette smoke hangs in the close air.

A couple of young women wearing nothing but lingerie and cell phones lounge on the sofas, text-messaging. In a concession to modern tastes, a brass stripper's pole connects the floor to the low ceiling and a petite blond with pigtails and the look of a debauched schoolgirl takes a few halfhearted spins on it. When two pudgy, middle-aged men in cargo shorts and polo shirts enter the gate, a buzzer rings and the other working girls on shift materialize like ghosts from the kitchen or the warren of 26 rooms in the back of the complex.

This is what's called "the lineup," and it's endlessly repeated throughout the day. The two gentlemen callers, in a bid to be funny and show their bona fides as staunch Republicans in what's still definitely Reagan Country, introduce themselves as "President Obama" and "Joe Biden." The two punters laugh uproariously at their display of wit, but the girls mostly seem perplexed.

One by one, they introduce themselves to the men, stating a name (all of the names in this article are the girls' working names) and offering a polite handshake before performing a prim turn and falling back into the line. It shows off the goods, but also says wordlessly that this part of the game is strictly business and there's going to be absolutely no action until a deal is struck and cash changes hands.

"Joe Biden" decides to sit out this particular dance, not finding any girls to his liking. "President Obama" picks 22-year-old Eva, a cute, bottom-heavy brunette in a blue bikini and matching silk robe, and is led off on "a tour."

It's on this trek that the prospective client will be given a rundown of the house "menu" — sexual acts like "Asian cowgirl," "whipped-cream party" and "bottoms up" — and will be shown special areas like the jacuzzi and the "VIP Room," which looks like something out of a Matt Helm movie ... if Dean Martin's titular character had a taste for the sexually exotic. In one corner, some sort of basket contraption hangs from the ceiling. In another corner, for those into mild bondage, is a wooden pillory. A king-size bed takes up a lot of real estate here, but the showpiece is a huge bathtub for special "bubble bath parties." Encounters in this room can set a customer back a couple of thousand dollars. Mostly, though, the customers just go to the girl's rented room and conduct their encounters there at whatever rate they both agree to.

Nikki, who has been booked for a two-week stay, says that what concerns her most isn't the work, but getting along with her co-workers. "My biggest fear is the other girls here. Living here for 15 days and not knowing anything is intimidating. That ... and getting into the car at the airport made me nervous. 'Am I going to get drugged and taken away?' "

The prospect of performing sexual acts for money doesn't bother her nearly as much. "I do like sex, honestly. I don't mind having sex with strangers, so why not get paid for it? I have to take care of my kids and I have to take care of Mom, so if it seems bad, then I'm sorry."

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