The Arizona Cardinals kick-off their season-opener tonight at home in Glendale, where this year's Super Bowl will be played. The city hosted the game once before in 2008, and it resulted in big money for area restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Now one man wants to capitalize on the Super Bowl crowd with a very different kind of venture. The plan involves opening a brothel in a state where prostitution is illegal. His argument? It would cut down on the amount of illegal sex trafficking.
It's not uncommon for prostitution rates to increase in cities that host the big game. Many people come to town early, make it into a vacation, spend money in their own way. Dennis Hof knows this, which is why he wants to open a brothel in metro-Phoenix in time for this season's Super Bowl. In Hof's opinion, Phoenix is the kind of place where sex really sells. "I look at Phoenix now as a sex town with tourism instead of being a tourism town with some sex, " says the Phoenix native.
Hof grew up in Arizona's largest city in the 1960's where he says he saw sex workers on the streets all the time. He doesn't feel much has changed, though he now lives in Nevada, a state that's legalized prostitution in some counties. Hof runs a brothel in one of those counties - The Moonlite Bunny Ranch. It was featured in the HBO series, "Cathouse", which documents the professional lives of the people who work at Hof's brothel.
Hof claims that legalizing prostitution has cut down on illegal sex-trafficking in the Nevada county where he operates his business. And, that claim is part of his pitch to the city of Phoenix to open a brothel for Super Bowl fans. "You're never going to cut down on the demand, so you can only control the supply," Hof says. "And you control the supply by either arresting people and putting these pimps in prison and helping out these underage girls who are definitely victims that are being trafficked. Or, you look at legislation."
That, however, is not an argument Melissa Farley buys. Farley is the founder of Prostitution Education and Research, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco. She says, "There's as much trafficking in the state of Nevada as there is any place else, despite the existence of legal prostitution." Farley's organization has studied prostitution in Nevada for the U.S. State Department Trafficking In Persons Office. She says the latest research evidence suggests, "wherever legal prostitution exists, you have drastic increases in trafficking."
Farley says Dennis Hof's brothel plan equates to giving him legal status as a pimp. Former sex worker Brenda Myers-Powell agrees. "What makes him any different than a pimp who posts his girl on the Internet and gets 50 or 40%?", she asks. "It's still pimping. You're getting paid from a woman's prostitution, am I right?" Myers-Powell says she was forced into prostitution at the age of 14, and for 25 years was trafficked across the country, even working for Hof at one point at a legal brothel in Nevada. Meyers-Powell says prostitution took her wherever the money was, including Super Bowl games. "We'd never go into the games, per se," she says, "but we would find out where the different parties were. We'd sit at the bar, and people were very loose with money, and they were intoxicated, and they were ready to have a ball."
Meyers-Powell believes that for sex workers, legally-regulated prostitution is no different than being trafficked. But a study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas seems to support Dennis Hof's claim that it could, at least, make a difference. Barbara Bents is a sociology professor at UNLV and spent 15 years interviewing sex workers working in legal brothels in Nevada. "Sex workers in brothels feel much safer," Brents says. "They're able to handle any unruly clients." She says some of the women she interviewed used to work for violent pimps, but because prostitution is legal in parts of the state, they were able to get off the streets and into legal brothels. "So, at that level, legal brothels probably make a difference," Brents says. "I mean, it's made a difference in the lives of some of the women that we interviewed in the Nevada brothels. Will it solve all human trafficking? No. But, it will do a little bit to alleviate it."
Still, the state of Arizona doesn't want anybody buying sex. The governor has established a human trafficking task force, as has the city of Phoenix. The state's Attorney General's Office is also addressing the issue. It launched a new advertising campaign last year encouraging people not to purchase sex from minors, even using the weight of the National Football League to get this message across. One public service announcement features former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and his wife Brenda telling Arizona residents and visitors that the state won't tolerate prostitution and sex-trafficking.
Despite the opposition, however, Dennis Hof remains vigilant in his plan. He says, "The naysayers need to look around and understand it's in your community now. I'm not bringing anything new. Am I here to make money? Yeah. But, if you can do the right thing and make money, that's what America's about."
He's already offered the city of Phoenix $500,000 to open a brothel, an offer the mayor turned down. Hof admits his chances are slim, but says he'll keep trying to persuade legislators to change state law and legalize prostitution in time for this season's Super Bowl.