Las Vegas Prostitution Arrests Increase, Could Be Due to Tougher Enforcement: Experts Explain

Posted on: June 11, 2024, 04:27h. 

Last updated on: June 12, 2024, 10:31h.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) reported about a 50% jump in prostitution offenses in May, according to Las Vegas TV station KTNV.

When comparing prostitution offenses between January 1 and May 31, 2023, vs. January 1 and May 31, 2024, for the Las Vegas Valley, the numbers were 675 in 2023 and 1,007 in 2024. That represents a 49.2% jump.

Robert Jarvis
Robert Jarvis, pictured above. The Florida law professor cautions against tougher penalties for prostitution. (Image: Nova Southeastern University)

Experts on criminal behavior speculate the “increase” may be due to tougher enforcement by local cops rather than more prostitution activity in the region.

“We know the number of arrests has increased. We don’t know if that’s because prostitution is on the rise or because the LVMPD has become more aggressive in arresting prostitutes,” Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard College of Law, told  “Indeed, prostitution may be decreasing.”

He also speculates that numbers in 2023 “could have been abnormally low or 2024 could be abnormally high.”

In fact, statistics cited by the local news report “are pretty much meaningless,” Jarvis warned. “They obviously play right into the hands of ‘law and order’ candidates who can use them to claim that there is a crisis.”

Similarly, when asked about the data reported by KTNV, Barbara Brents, a sociologist at UNLV who studies prostitution trends, told, “I would suspect it has a lot more to do with increasing arrests rather than increases in paid sex.”

Opposed to Stricter Penalties

Prostitution is a criminal charge that really can’t be effectively curbed, Jarvis confirmed.

Stricter penalties will not curb prostitution — they just drive the activity further underground and make it more expensive and dangerous for everyone involved,” Jarvis said.

For example, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Yemen have laws that call for capital punishment for prostitution. But prostitution exists in every one of these countries, he said.

“Much like drugs, as long as there is a demand, there will be people who will fulfill the demand,” Jarvis said.

Many counties in Nevada allow for legal prostitution. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, isn’t one of them.

In this respect, it always has struck me as odd that Clark County has not legalized prostitution,” Jarvis added. “I think legalizing prostitution is a much better approach and is a win-win-win. Sex workers get the safety they need; customers get the peace of mind — no arrests, prostitutes regularly given health checks — they need; and the government gets the tax revenue it needs,” he added.

Also, those who are underage and involved with sex trafficking especially need to get help from resources.

Tourists, Locals Use Sex Trade

In Las Vegas, both tourists and locals seek out prostitutes, even though it’s illegal. Some of the sex trade happens by meeting customers at bars, on streets, through escort services, or via online sites.

Las Vegas’ many casinos and hotels, as well as those in other locations, often attempt to curb prostitution from taking place at their properties.

But Jarvis points out that Las Vegas casinos are “a special case because of how many tourists they get…  Many tourists come to Las Vegas to do things they would never think of doing at home, and, of course, Las Vegas has long promoted such an ethos, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Barbara Brents
Barbara Brents, pictured above. The UNLV sociologist encourages more social services for those in the sex trade. (Image: UNLV)

Yet, empirical evidence shows there are many markets for sex work. Tourists and those attending conventions are just one, said UNLV sociologist Barbara Brents.

Locals also provide and pay for sexual services. “Many tourist destinations have lots of prostitution, casinos are no different than convention centers or hotels,” she added.

Rather than focusing on law enforcement, Brents recommends having interventions for sex workers, including social services such as improved housing, health care, food, and mental health services.

That way, individuals would be less likely to turn to sex work out of desperation, Brents said.