Nevada’s sex workers are among the unemployed after brothels and strip clubs shut down due to coronavirus concerns.
“It’s like any business – it’s going to make a mark,” said legal sex worker Sandi Benks of the closure’s financial impact. “You work so hard when you’re an independent contractor, and it’s just on hold. It’s just bizarre.”
On March 18, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the closure of all non-essential businesses, including bars and strip clubs, and the directive was expanded the following day to include the state’s brothels.
According to a 2012 University of Las Vegas report prepared for the Nevada legislature, there were 12,000 registered strippers in the city alone. Because sex work is not a state-regulated industry, there is no official statewide data on the number of legal sex workers in Nevada.
Benks said she left the Love Ranch in Mound House several days before the brothel closed because of coronavirus concerns.
“I had a gut feeling and I just packed up and left,” she said. “I bailed on it. I wasn’t comfortable. I knew nationally we weren’t supposed to be in groups over 10 and I was like this is a group over 10 – I’m outta here. I’m a stickler on that. I’d rather play safe than sorry.”
Benks said that even before the closure, she had clients cancelling, and one canceled because he suspected he’d been exposed to the virus.
“It was already affecting me in my head,” she said. “When there’s a pandemic, you want to be smart about it.”
She said she is considering using her fan base to market hand-crafted items on Etsy, as well as offering a virtual girlfriend experience.
“I have a lot of regulars who would like to support me through this time, but can’t,” she said. All her income as a sex worker is contractually required to go through the brothels, she said.
And, as an independent contractor, she doesn’t pay into state unemployment, according to Rosa Mendez, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Employment, Rehabilitation and Training. On Friday, Mendez said that meant they would not be eligible for state relief.
However, the CARES Act passed that same day now allows independent contractors to receive unemployment, said Chuck Muth with Nevada Brothel Association on Wednesday. He added the process and system won’t be set up for a couple more days.
According to the University of Las Vegas report, the brothel industry brought in between $35 million and $50 million that year, and served about 400,000 clients.