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World Famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch proprietor Dennis Hof gained his notoriety by claiming to own the majority of Nevada's legal brothels and starring on the cult classic HBO show Cathouse—but this year, the author of The Art of the Pimp has announced a more ambitious goal: He has started an exploratory committee to pursue a run for US Senate in Nevada, and created a plan to end sex trafficking. If he can gather the money to fund a campaign, he plans to run on the libertarian ticket and try to take the seat of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who is retiring in 2016.
"Where do you get the $5 to $10 billion it's gonna take to run this campaign without selling yourself out?" he asks. "There's more whores in Washington and in politics than the Bunny Ranch has ever had in its 50 years of existence."
Sex trafficking is an American epidemic far more dangerous than Ebola or the missing planes that have absorbed American media for the last year. Between 14,500 and 16,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year, and human trafficking remains the third biggest black market industry after drugs and arms trafficking, according to the non-profit DoSomething.
Hof may seem like an odd person to defend sex trafficking victims, but he believes his experience with legal prostitution proves that decriminalizing the oldest profession would end one of the world's biggest human rights issues. Hof has spoken at Oxford and the Sorbonne about his plans to end sex trafficking (name another pimp who has spoken at Oxford), and on his press tour for his new memoir, The Art of the Pimp, he has called ending sex trafficking his last goal in life.
As a businessman, he obviously has an ulterior motive in advocating for legalization: If legal brothels can operate in other states, then Hof would be able to expand his empire. Having a charitable cause associated with legalizing prostitution also makes the Bunny Ranch and Hof's other brothels seem like humanitarian efforts. But some of the data—and some feminists—support his ideas. While the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has cited 364 sex trafficking cases since 2007 in Nevada, most these calls from from Las Vegas and Reno—cities where prostitution remains illegal. (In Nevada, brothels can only operate in towns with small populations.)
While living at the Bunny Ranch for a series of stories for Broadly, I sat down with Hof to discuss his possible run for office and his strategy for ending sex trafficking.
**Broadly: *Why are you considering a run for Senate?***
*Dennis Hof:* The Nevada governor wanted to put in a bill that taxes all the business people. It's a $1.1 billion bill. It's bad for business. It's the biggest tax hike in the history of Nevada, a 150-year history. So at that point, I said if the Republicans who are pro-business and low taxes are going to do something like this to us, it's time that we start having businessmen in politics.
Why have you chosen sex trafficking as a major platform?
[Sex trafficking] is disgusting, it's out of hand, and it's in epidemic proportions. [Las Vegas] can't fight it, and they don't have the resources to fight it.
Throughout your 25-plus career in the sex business, how have you seen sex trafficking explode?
Sex trafficking is in epidemic proportions. If it was anything else that had that much crime involved in it, you'd see the federal government involved in it in a big way to close it down. The old way was the pimp would pick up a little hot girl in the Midwest; bring her to Vegas, San Francisco, Hollywood, or Dallas; and throw her on the track—that's how he'd make his money. The new way is they pick the same girl up, take her to these cities, put them up in a Quality Inn or something by the week, take a few pictures, throw 'em up on Backpage—which is doing most of the sex trafficking in America now; they're enabling it—and then he takes off. That way the cops aren't there to arrest him when he picks her up on the street and all that. The internet has such good things and bad things—one of the bad things is it's really put sex trafficking at its all time highest.
How could legalization end, or at least decrease, sex trafficking?
Look at prohibition! The Al Capones made money, the politicians that looked the other way made money, and the criminal organizations grew and grew and grew. When you legalize it, now you've got health tests, distribution, and age restrictions. You're seeing the same thing with marijuana: Look what's happened to the drug cartel. You don't even hear about the drug cartel that much anymore.
You can't control the supply side with legalization. We don't have illegal prostitutes in this county [of Nevada]. When you legalize it, you take away the need for [sex trafficking] and the vice squad, or cut it way, way down. In Vegas now, they've had a thousand girls that have been arrested and forced to take an STD test and working with HIV. Working with it! So that stuff about what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, that's all nonsense.
Some people may argue that legal prostitution isn't perfect. There's still pimps. After all, you're a pimp. What do you say to that?
Everybody has a pimp. Air Force Amy [the most successful prostitute at the Bunny Ranch]will say, "My pimp is Bank of America credit cards, Wells Fargo home loan, and Mercedes Benz auto credit. That's my pimp—that's why I work." Other girls will say, "I've got two kids and a deadbeat guy who doesn't pay any bills. I want a job where I can make the most money I can in the shortest period of time so I can be with my kids—and I don't have to have substandard babysitting and work three jobs. I come to the Bunny Ranch so I can do that." [Politicians] paint it with the same brush.
How do you implement legalization? Do you go state by state like with weed?
Unless you get the politics behind you, the politicians behind you, it's never gonna happen. Never gonna change state law even though it's out of hand. It's so out of hand; you get people like Eliot Spitzer, who's running the state, and one of his big issues was prostitution and being hard on it and the pimps. Then they catch him using a prostitute—that's the world's greatest hypocrite. If you're a politician and you're going to pick a cause, pick something you're not into.
Why won't politicians legalize prostitution?
If they're going to say, "Yes, I'm pro prostitution," [and you're from] the right wing, [during the] next election, [Democrats are] going to tear you apart. No morals, blah, blah, blah. And if you're on the left, you say you're for it, or you say you're not for it, then it's the same way [but coming from Republicans]. They just can't win.
Do you think some people don't understand the difference between legal prostitution, illegal prostitution, and sex trafficking?
Absolutely. Here's what happens: The right wing, especially, they want to paint all prostitution with the same brush, whether it's legal or illegal. They want to take a drug cartel guy selling heroin and compare him with Pfizer, but that's never going to happen. In the sex trade for some reason, it does happen. So it's always the issue with me and this exploitation.
How do you change political opinions. With lobbyists?
The right way to do it is to use the Bunny Ranch model to open up all over America and turn it into a profit center [through taxes]. Money would be the only thing that might entice them to [legalize it].
Don't you have an ulterior motive to advocate for legalization and sex trafficking in politics?
I'm speaking for numerous reasons: One of them is advertising, and, to be perfectly honest, another one is my ego. Now the serious side of it is, besides my ego and money, sex trafficking is a worldwide problem. The United States is growing faster—they've had a lot of it in Europe for a long time—and I know how to fix it. You're never going to get rid of [sex trafficking]. Let's slow it down to a trickle. And that I can do.
What makes you, and other people in Nevada, different? Why are you accepting of prostitution?
It's our culture. First came the miners, that guy that walked through here in 1850 or something, put his pick down and shovel, started digging a little bit, and all of a sudden found gold and silver. The mining companies suggested to girls to come out here where this gold rush was—where money was—to open up shop. You've got the miners and the prostitutes, and the end result was the children of Nevada. We grew up with that. So we don't have any problems with anybody.
I remember once Geraldo [Rivera] out of the blue hit me with, "Dennis Hof, World Famous Bunny Ranch, how do you get along with the church?" And I just kind of hesitated, and I thought for just a second, and I said, "We get along real good. The limo makes its rounds and drops the girls off at the different churches." I said, "Geraldo, what people don't understand is this: Nevada, as crazy as we sound, drink 24 hours a day, gamble twenty-four hours a day till you lose your house, you can buy sex in most counties in Nevada—we're very conservative."
"Oh, that's not true" [Geraldo said.] It is true. We're a very, very conservative state—extremely conservative—but they're also smart and they come from that culture of being raised around it, generation after generation, that's just the old cathouse. [The brothels] buy turkeys for the people that are hungry at Thanksgiving. They donate money to the food bank. That brothel, they're the ones that came up with all that money to get life jackets so we didn't have any drownings last year in the lake. It's been around so long.
Mitchell Sunderland is the managing editor of Broadly. Follow Mitchell and photographer Amy Lombard on Twitter.