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Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women by…
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Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women (2002)

by Alexa Albert

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Every time I take the California Zephyr and go through Reno, the On Board Chief of Services, or one of his minions, never fails to point out the famous Mustang Ranch, located in a secluded valley twenty-some miles out of Sparks, Nevada. If you've ever been curious about what goes on, and why, in Nevada's brothels and the Mustang Ranch, in particular, you will find this a fascinating book. I did.

Ms. Albert, a public health specialist, had been interested for years in HIV and STD transmission and condom usage. She was curious to measure the impact of legalized prostitution on these parameters. Her first overtures to George Flint, ordained minister, wedding chapel owner, and executive director for the Nevada Brothel Association, were rebuffed, but she didn' give up. Flint realized she was a serious researcher and paved the way for her to spend several weeks living (not working) at the famous Mustang Ranch in Storey County, near Reno — not in Reno, and that distinction is important and has historical roots. Brothels can only be licensed legally in counties, and Reno and Las Vegas have chosen not to do so.

That is itself an interesting story, because one of the staunch opponents of legalized prostitution in Las Vegas has been Steve Wynn, wealthy casino owner, who publicly argues that it tarnishes the image of Las Vegas, gambling and former mob mecca of the world. Privately, many speculate that the real reason is that unlicensed, freelance prostitution, which thrives in Las Vegas, takes place in the hotels that own the casinos and therefore keeps the gamblers in the casinos where they belong. The brothels are all located in remote areas, away from the cities and that takes money away from the casinos. Brothels are prohibited from advertising, yet the freelancers have 140 pages in the Las Vegas Yellow Pages devoted to their activities which are completely unregulated.

A brothel can be a very substantial source of revenue for the county (4% of Storey County's total revenue in the case of the Mustang). Annual license fees in the hundreds of thousands are not rare, and the associated employment brings in needed additional tax revenue. Following the federal seizure of the Mustang Ranch for the failure of the owner to pay appropriate income taxes (he was a fugitive in Brazil and hiding the revenue under a false corporation), the brothel has been shut down until the courts can decide on the legality of the appeal of the conviction. The Feds had thought about running the brothel to bring in some revenue to pay the expenses of the prosecution, but that was deemed politically unwise.

The author came away from the experience a confirmed advocate of legalized prostitution. Customers and prostitutes are safe and the regulation is intense. Condom usage is mandatory, as are regular health checkups, and in fact no licensed prostitute has ever been diagnosed with HIV, although several applicants, who were refused licenses, had been. It's ironic, but the johns have virtually no control over their experience at the brothel except for the selection of the girl, and even that is often out of their control. If the word gets around that a particular john is impolite, routinely abusive, or just generally obnoxious, the word gets around, and the girls will walk him, i.e., quote impossibly high prices (as independent contractors they set their own prices, returning 50% to the brothel), and soon the john leaves, frustrated to say the least. In any case, the girls remain in complete control of the situation and each customer gets a thorough wash and genital examination to look for any sign of an STD. Many of the women see themselves as providing a valuable public service, and from her interviews with many of the clients, Ms. Albert would agree. For many of the men, it's their only form of social contact, and many even become quite addicted to it, even to the point where they subsidize the girls beyond what happens in the building, giving them extra clothes, helping with moving, the rent, etc. But to the majority of the women, a trick is still a trick, and they can be quite good at manipulating these relationships. Most of them are in it for the money, which can be very good. Some were persuaded by husbands, others by mothers!!, most by financial necessity, but many have worked for many years. Several insisted they can completely separate their professional lives from their personal, insisting they maintain a normal life at home with their husbands and families. But despite its legalization, the life lacks legitimacy, and those who work in the brothels as barkeeps, maids, vendors, and prostitutes develop a sense of community and family that provides structure and support that they often lack elsewhere. The brothel "had provided an income as well as friendship, compassion, trust and hope for countless women and men. In many ways, Mustang Ranch picked up where society had dropped the ball. It had provided a safe, nonjudgmental, economically sound work environment and a fair way for a community of several dozen women and their familles to meet their most basic needs. Whatever you think of prostitution and its legalization, this is an essential and very interesting read. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I really enjoyed this book even though I stopped after reading half.

here we have many legal brothels so I don't think any weird of it at all. I think it is better than to have the girls on the street. The author even made me laugh when she tried on the red negligee! ( )
  Marlene-NL | Apr 12, 2013 |
Culture is a strange thing. Depending on where you live in the world prostitution is either accepted or illegal and here in the United States it's even more strange as it's accepted nowhere other than in Nevada. Even then it's only legal in licensed brothels such as The Mustang Ranch. While it's legal and provides a high percentage of income for local government it's still not the type of business that is embraced or advertised publicly and is associated with a "look the other way" mentality.
Due to the attitude towards brothels, and prostitution in general, Alexa Albert took it upon herself to investigate the day to day practices of the brothels, its workers and its customers. Integrating herself into the Mustang Ranch by living there she became close with many of the workers and documented her findings and attitudes in 'Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women'.
'Brothel' is a very informative book that humanizes the sex industry in relation to the Mustang Ranch. It's also a very complicated industry which the author does her best to understand even going to the lengths of watching the actual act of prostitution taking place. Albert's greatest strength is also her greatest weakness in that she becomes emotionally close to some of the workers. As such she is allowed greater access into how they feel, what they think, how they cope etc but at the same time that causes her to lose her objectivity as she has an emotional connection to her subjects. Calling the workers her subjects is almost dehumanizing them on my part as they become friends of hers and Albert becomes someone who they can confide in.
One aspect that I took away from reading this book is that there is no set personality when it comes to who ends up in prostitution. Women from all walks of life turn to one of the world's oldest industry. However, none of them are ever there due to it being a career choice brought about by their love of the industry. Many were prostituting due to financial hardship while others were drawn towards the high earning potential even if they weren't experiencing hardship of there own. In many ways I ended up admiring the choice that these women had made, particularly those who were selling their bodies, so their children could have a better life. Sadly though as working at the Mustang Ranch meant being confined to the brothel for three weeks at a time, and sometimes more, their children missed out on time spent with their mothers.
I was surprised to learn that a fair percentage of the women enjoyed the sex they provided and often experienced orgasms. Unfortunately, even within such a stigmatized industry, those women were further stigmatized by some of their fellow workers who considered enjoying the prostitution a disgusting practice.
As much as the author analyzes and interprets the situations, conditions and experiences of the working girls the true beauty of this book lays in the human aspect. Regardless of whether they are working in a stigmatized industry, ultimately, the females who prostitute themselves are just like you and I and that shines through in the narrative.
The one problem I had with this book, and it's not something that can be avoided, is that it's dated. It was published back in 2001 when Mustang Ranch had been shut down by government agencies and so it ends with the future of the ranch still in limbo (I do believe it was rebuilt at another site and is now running under new ownership). Also, some of the laws that applied back then that are issues in the book have now changed such as brothels, and the sex workers themselves, not being able to advertise themselves. With the onset of the internet clients can book a time, their woman of choice and agree a price long before they even visit a brothel.
If you have an interest in human sexuality then I would certainly recommend this book as it covers a lot of different aspects such sexual health, prostitution, attitudes towards brothels and the sex itself. What it isn't is a book full of licentiousness, seediness and cheap thrills as the subject matter is handled in a mature and professional way. ( )
1 vote BookMarcBlogpants | Apr 29, 2011 |
Though she originally visited the famous Mustang Ranch in Nevada to perform a study about condom use in legal brothels, Albert discovers a fascination with the life of a prostitute, and is in fact invited back to live at the Mustang several times over it last few years in operation. I admit I hadn't given legal prostitution too much thought; after all, what consenting adults do behind closed doors is none of my business. This, however, provided an engrossing look into one of America's last remaining taboos. Albert covers all aspects of the business - from legislation and lobbying, to pimps and boyfriends, to traveling salesmen who supply the prostitutes with clothing and makeup, to internet fans, forums, and conventions - and all with both sympathy and blunt honesty, regardless of her personal feelings. This is certainly a book to make one think. ( )
1 vote melydia | Jun 21, 2010 |
Albert spent a year living in a legal brothel near Reno, NV. The main characters in this documenatry-style book are of course the prostitutes, but she also examines the male clientele who patronize the Mustang ranch and the bartenders, laundresses, madams, and other support staff who work there. The portrait of the prostitutes is nuanced, yet ultimately sad, and the politics of the brothel are brutal, yet they have an esprit de corps not present among many classes of workers. Albert does not argue the case for decriminalization or legalization of prostitution, but the facts that emerge about the Mustang Ranch present a compelling case that this model is preferable compared with what prostitutes working outside the law must do to survive. ( )
1 vote chorn369 | Feb 18, 2010 |
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In memory of my friend, Alfred In appreciation of my husband Andy and my father, Marvin In celebration of my mother, Judy and my daughter, Coco
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The postmark read "Reno, Nevada, 24 Dec 1992. I stared at the envelop for a long moment before opening it.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449006581, Paperback)

A journey into a fascinating subculture, Alexa Albert's exploration of Nevada's infamous cathouses began as a public-health study into the safe-sex practices of these legal working girls and the effectiveness of condom requirements in preventing sexually transmitted diseases. It took her three years to gain access to the brothels, and when her project was eventually approved by the head of the Nevada Brothel Association, she was surprised to be invited to stay at Mustang Ranch, among the women of the brothel, for the duration of her research. She learned that despite the legalization of prostitution in several counties of Nevada, the working girls still faced restrictive local ordinances and work regulations that kept them virtual prisoners inside the brothel compound. Outside, they encountered the same social stigma that has always haunted sex workers. In her compassionate, engaging first book, Albert answers all the questions you might ever have about prostitutes, providing a rich and nuanced depiction of a largely hidden world. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:56 -0400)

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Chronicles the observations of a female doctor when she examined the public health and moral issues of a legalized brothel in Nevada.

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