Lamar Odom, Nevada Brothels, and Human Trafficking

On October 27, 2015, in Basketball, NBA, SELS Blog, by Matthew Weiss

By Valerie Caras*

On October 13, Lamar Odom joined the ranks of many other well-known athletes who have solicited prostitutes. However, his actions are distinguishable from a majority of those cases because his four-day, $75,000 patronization of the “Love Ranch,” a licensed Nevada brothel, was legal.

Nevada is the only state in the country where legal brothels exist; however, regulations are not uniform throughout the Silver State.[1] Under Nevada law, counties with population in excess of 700,000 people are not allowed to license brothels. This means brothels are illegal in Clark County, home to Las Vegas[2], and Washoe County, home to Reno.[3] For counties with fewer than 700,000 residents, such as Nye County (where the Love Ranch was located), decisions to permit and license brothels rest with county officials. In addition to administering these licenses, officials on licensing boards can also decide to revoke a brothel’s license if the business was found to have violated any state or local laws.[4] The Nye County License and Liquor Board licensed the Love Ranch in 2010.[5]

While county governments administer brothel licenses, the state steps in to regulate the health of “sex workers” employed by brothels by requiring condom use as well as regular medical examinations to test for STDs and HIV.[6] The state has also specifically levied liability upon brothel owners if they employ or continue to employ sex workers who are known to have tested positive for HIV.[7]

Additionally, the state prohibits brothel owners from advertising in other Nevada counties where brothels are not permitted.[8] The 9th Circuit upheld the constitutionality of this statute in 2010, reasoning that the state of Nevada had an interest in reducing the “commoditization of sex.”[9]

In Odom’s case, evidence has not yet been presented to suggest that he engaged in any illegal prostitution activities outside of Nye County or at the Love Ranch. Nor is there evidence to suggest that the Love Ranch or the two prostitutes involved were violating any county or state health laws. Nonetheless, Odom, a popular former NBA star who attracts swarms of media attention, has elevated the profile of activity that in nearly every corner of the country is criminalized. But for his hospitalization and ensuing battle for his life, Odom’s purchase of sex would probably go unnoticed, assuming that he would not have been caught or arrested.

While Odom’s purchase of sex at the Love Ranch was not per se illegal, by engaging in prostitution, he has effectively increased demand for an activity that can lead to more dire consequences in the form of human trafficking.[10] According to FAIR Girls—a nonprofit that prevents the exploitation of girls worldwide—an increase in demand for commercial sex leads to more sex trafficking.[11] For example, even though Nevada offers legalized prostitution, it remains a top destination for human traffickers.[12] Even a lobbyist for the brothel industry has admitted that business at legal venues has been struggling due to competition from illegal operations in Las Vegas and on the internet, which is likely thriving in part due to human trafficking.[13] Fortunately, the state, recognizing the severity of this issue, has taken steps to stop human trafficking by passing some of the harshest penalties in the country for child prostitution and pandering.[14]

At the end of the day, Lamar Odom will not be held criminally liable for buying sex, but his actions nonetheless raise legal questions about whether or not the purchase of sex should be legally permissible at all and bring to the forefront the concern of human trafficking.


 

*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports and Entertainment Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2018, Villanova University School of Law.

[1] See Henry Brean, Nevada’s ‘Oldest Profession’ at Risk from Illegal Sex Trade, Las Vegas Review-Journal (July 19, 2004), http://www.reviewjournal.com/nevada-150/nevada-s-oldest-profession-risk-illegal-sex-trade.

[2] See Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 244.345 (2015).

[3] See Six Arrested in Prostitution Sting Targeting Females, KOLO-TV (April 4, 2015), http://www.kolotv.com/news/headlines/Six-Arrested-in-Prostitution-Operation-Targeting-Females-298670211.html.

[4] See Colton Lochead, Prostitutes Heard Lamar Odom ‘Snorting’ in Brothel Bathroom, Court Papers Show, Las Vegas Review-Journal (Oct. 23, 2015), http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/prostitutes-heard-lamar-odom-snorting-brothel-bathroom-court-papers-show.

[5] See Nye County Agenda Information Form, NyeCounty.net (Nov. 9, 2010), http://www.nyecounty.net/documentcenter/view/11388.

[6] See Nev. Admin. Code § 441A.805 (2015); see also Nev. Admin. Code § 441A.120 (2015).

[7] See Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 41.1397 (2015).

[8] See Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann § 201.440 (2015); see also Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 201.430 (2015).

[9] Coyote Pub., Inc. v. Miller, 598 F.3d 592, 602 (9th Cir. 2010).

[10] “…the harm suffered by forced prostitutes can be fairly imputed to all prostitute-users, due to their role in creating the demand for the prostitution market.” Michelle Madden Dempsey, Rethinking Wolfenden: Prostitute-Use, Criminal Law and Remote Harm, 2005 Crim. L. Rev. 454.

[11] See Jim Avila, Super Bowl Is Largest Weekend in US Prostitution Advocates Say, ABC News (Jan. 29, 2014), http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/01/super-bowl-is-largest-weekend-in-us-prostitution-advocates-say/.

[12] Sam Skolnik, Do We Have a Human Trafficking Problem?, Las Vegas Sun (Jan. 29, 2007), http://lasvegassun.com/news/2007/jan/29/do-we-have-a-human-trafficking-problem/.

[13] See Brean, supra note 1.

[14] See Tom Ragan, Nevada Movement Draws the Line on Human Trafficking, Las Vegas Review Journal (May 23, 2013), http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/nevada-movement-draws-line-human-trafficking/.

 

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