By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — A federal judge in Nevada has dismissed a lawsuit that invoked sex trafficking laws in a bid to close the nation’s only legal brothels.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno said in her Tuesday ruling that she empathized with three women who claim they were victims of sexual violence in Nevada and other places.
However, the judge said the women live in Texas and she wasn’t convinced the profound harm they said they suffered was due to Nevada prostitution laws.
“That plaintiffs were unlawfully forced into prostitution and sex trafficked in Nevada and other states is not sufficiently traceable to Nevada laws … as opposed to other factors, namely the illicit behaviors of private bad actors,” Du wrote.
Attorney Jason Guinasso, representing plaintiffs Rebekah Charleston, Angela Delgado-Williams and Leah Albright-Williams, said they may appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been victims of sexual assault, but Guinasso said the women consented to be named in the lawsuit and news reports.
Guinasso previously served as a lawyer for a Nevada group, “No Little Girl,” that led an unsuccessful campaign last year for a ballot measure to end prostitution in Nevada’s Lyon County.
He called the lawsuit a successful “first step to creating change in our laws” and said in a statement that if Nevada did not permit legal prostitution, his clients would not have been trafficked to Nevada.
Prostitution is legal in rural Nevada, but not in the state’s two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, or the cities of Las Vegas and Reno. State officials currently oversee 21 legal bordellos in seven counties.
Brothel owners argue that state regulation and mandatory health screenings make the women they hire safer than those involved in illegal prostitution.
Lance Gilman, owner of the Mustang Ranch in northern Nevada, welcomed Du’s ruling and said he and his competitors are “firmly committed to being an integral part of the solution to address” sex trafficking.
“The significant amounts of time and resources that have been wasted on inflammatory lawsuits and desperate ballot initiatives … should have been spent developing solutions to get women off the streets and out of the hands of predators,” Gilman said in a statement.
Charleston heads a group in Colleyville, Texas, that works to eradicate sexual exploitation. She has said she was a homeless runaway living on the streets when a boyfriend forced her into prostitution. She said she was traded to a sex trafficker who forced her to work at a brothel in Lyon County east of Carson City.
The other two women were added to the lawsuit as plaintiffs in March. Their hometowns were not listed in court filings, which named Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Nevada Legislature as defendants.
Nevada state Attorney General Aaron Ford, representing the governor and Legislature, declined to comment about the dismissal.
The judge summarized the complaint as a contention that “the existence of legal prostitution in certain counties and localities in Nevada allows for sex trafficking to flourish and thus conflicts with federal laws.”
The lawsuit cited the federal Mann Act of 1910, which prohibits the interstate or foreign commerce transport “of any woman or girl for prostitution, debauchery or for any other immoral purpose.”
It called the Nevada law legalizing prostitution unconstitutional because “the brothel industry in Nevada openly notoriously persuades, induces, entices and coerces individuals to travel in interstate commerce to commit acts of prostitution.”
The lawsuit also asked the judge to order the state to devote $2 million a year to a fund for mental health services, job training, child care, scholarships and tattoo removal to people seeking to leave the sex trade.