Checking in on Vegas’ illegal escort industry


Las Vegas’ prostitutes can’t tell you how business is going. There are no union spokespersons, no profit-and-loss statements … really, there’s not even a number you can call to ask (unless your follow-up question is along the lines of “how soon can you get here”). Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Interim Dean of UNLV’s Graduate College and co-founder (with Barbara Brents) of the university’s Sex and Body Industry Research Project (SABIR), spoke with the Weekly about the current state of this shadow industry.

What does illegal sex work look like these days? Have we moved past streetwalkers and card-slappers?

It’s changed tremendously. Some of the primary ways of connecting with escorts—the free magazines on the streets, the tart cards—have sort of become archaic remnants of the past. Now, everything’s Internet-based.

How does that work? A webpage with pictures and a phone number?

At a minimum, it’s pictures, a phone number and an email address, maybe a Twitter account. But many have pages about what to expect on an ideal date, telling clients, “This is what you can do, and this is what you can’t do.” There’s a lot of talk about gifting—that you’re paying for time and dinner, and that anything else is gifts and that those are welcomed. Sometimes they’ll list what gifts they’re hoping for or wanting, or what sizes they are, whatever.

And this is how it’s been for a while?

A lot has changed in the past month. Backpage.com just shut down all their escort ads, and that’s obviously hurt. And frankly, I’m hearing that [the recent administration change] is really cutting into the business. Some find it really onerous to spend hours with a person who’s ranting and raving about how great Trump is, spewing all kinds of hate talk. That’s not a dream client for these women. So, some of the women who are able to step out of it are pushing pause for a moment. It’s an interesting trend.

Is there a sense among escorts that the work has become more dangerous in recent days?

The discourse has changed tremendously because of trafficking. All the new trafficking laws that have come into place in the last 15 years can be used against women who are really not being trafficked.

Is there a middle ground—a way to save trafficked individuals, but also provide safety for those who would probably do this work whether it’s legal or not?

Yeah, decriminalize it. Don’t make these women criminals; make them businesswomen. Empower them to make choices to work with whomever they want to work with, to report it when they’re abused, to pay taxes and be able to get apartments or houses. De-stigmatize it. I might be in the minority on that one.

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