Prostitution sex discrimination case before Supreme Court

A Las Vegas lawyer handling dozens of prostitution cases told the Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday he wants an order forcing the Clark County district attorney to give female offenders the same break male offenders get.

But Clark County District Attorney Stu Bell said it isn't a case of gender discrimination but a difference between handling the "buyer" and the "seller" of sexual services.

The high court took the case under submission.

The suit was filed by William B. Terry, saying the Clark County District Attorney's Office has had a policy of offering men arrested on prostitution charges a plea bargain that removes the charge from their record if they attend a counseling session.

He quoted Bell's policy expressed in a memo as stating, "It has been agreed amongst Metro, the district attorney's office and the city attorney's office that (except in the cases of first time male offenders who opt for the diversion program) we will not negotiate the value of cases of soliciting prostitution. ..."

Terry, who is defending 64 prostitution cases, said that constitutes "on its face, discrimination between males and females."

Bell said the memo didn't properly express the actual policy, which was to offer diversion to the person trying to buy sexual favors while prosecuting the prostitute. He said it's just a fact that 99 percent of the "johns" are men while 95 percent of the prostitutes are women.

"What they had to show is that I had a purpose to discriminate against women," he told the court. "I'm telling you that I didn't do that."

Terry told the court Wednesday the memo directly states that men can be offered diversion while women cannot. He charged that it was after he raised the issue and obtained the memo that Bell changed the interpretation.

"The seller-buyer distinction was only created to try justify the policy," he said.

Bell said diversion has proven to prevent men from seeking the services of a prostitute. He said in the case of the women, prosecution takes them out of the most lucrative end of the market -- the so-called "entertainment services" which send exotic dancers and women to parties for men. Bell said many of those services are loosely disguised call girl services but that a prostitution conviction allows police to revoke the workcard a woman must have to work in those businesses.

He said after the hearing the policy has now been clearly stated as applying to buyers and sellers of sex, not by gender. He said that should settle it.

But Terry argued the policy should still be voided because it still discriminates against women since nearly all the prostitutes arrested are women. He said they too should have the possibility of a diversion program for a first offense instead of losing their work card.

"I haven't asked for dismissal of these cases," he said. "I've asked for voiding of the policy. They should look at it on a case by case basis."


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