State lawmakers pushing to legalize prostitution may want to think twice.
A former sex-trade survivor who says she was victimized everywhere from New York City strip clubs to Nevada’s legal brothels is now at the forefront of the national battle against legalization, telling The Post that it only encourages “horrific’’ trafficking.
“A lot of people are under the misconception that just because it’s legal [in Nevada], then it’s safe and it’s clean and that all the people there are consenting, and that’s just not the truth,” said Rebekah Charleston, who appears in a blistering new anti-trafficking video put out by opponents of legalization.
“I think a lot of people have this happy hooker mindset like, ‘Oh well, she looks happy, and she’s an adult, so she should be able to do what she wants,’ when that’s just not reality. The realities of prostitution and sex trafficking are horrific.”
Charleston, 37, is part of a new campaign launched by a coalition of advocacy groups that includes the video, which was unveiled at the World Without Exploitation conference in Washington, DC, on May 23.
The anti-trafficking campaign comes amid a national debate over whether to legalize prostitution.
In New York, a group of state lawmakers vowed earlier this year to introduce a bill to legalize prostitution.
Backers of the proposed bill said they believe that legalization would reduce sex trafficking and protect the women who rely on the industry to make a living. Supporters say that any bill wouldn’t extend protections to pimps or sex traffickers.
But critics worry that it could actually lead to an increase in trafficking, as Charleston argues.
As it stands now, authorities across New York City’s five boroughs have taken a soft approach to prosecuting prostitution cases. The NYPD says it treats those arrested as victims first. Anyone considered a trafficking victim then goes to the city’s special Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where most are offered services and have their charges dismissed.
Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez has said he supports going a step further and decriminalizing prostitution.
But Charleston, who was often sent by her pimp to city strip clubs to find johns, said Nevada shouldn’t serve as a national blueprint.
“Forty-eight years ago, prostitution was legalized in Nevada. It was a social experiment. That experiment has failed,” Charleston says in the video.
Nevada has a 63 percent higher rate of illegal sex-trade activity than any other state in the country and ranks in the top 10 for trafficked and exploited youth, according to the video, which adds that only 10 percent of prostitution in Nevada is legal.
Nevada also is ranked sixth in the country for rapes and sexual assaults against women, according to Awaken, an anti-sex trafficking non-profit based in Reno.
Charleston, originally from Dallas, Texas, said she was raped when she was 14 years old, became addicted to drugs and ran away from home at the age of 17, when she met a pimp that would sell her across the US for the next 10 years.
One time, when she tried to escape, he held a pitchfork to her neck and said he would kill her, she said.
“When somebody beats you to where you have blood pouring out of your face, you believe them when they say they’ll kill you,” explained Charleston, who now runs her own non-profit Valiant Hearts.
She said her trafficker sent her to the Love Ranch North and the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothels, owned by the late Dennis Hof, “as a form of punishment” when she wasn’t making enough money or gave him other trouble.
At the legal brothels, Charleston said, the conditions were deplorable.
“It’s a miserable daily existence, so drug use is rampant inside the brothel. … We would just sit around and get high [on meth] all day,” recalled Charleston, who said she no longer uses drugs.
She was also expected to be on call 24 hours a day and forced to sleep in the same room she serviced customers in, a practice she called “disgusting” and a “human-rights violation.”
Anytime she tried to leave the brothel, the house manager would try to prevent her from going, while other girls in the house “just never left.”
Melissa Holland, co-founder and executive director of Awaken, said Nevada’s quest to legalize prostitution was done in part to make selling sex safer for the workers and the buyers.
Instead, it’s only made the illegal market proliferate in the last half a century and has changed the state’s culture, she said.
“We know from research when you legalize prostitution … you increase the demand for it. … So when the demand goes up, you have to increase the supply, and that’s in trafficking women and children,” Holland explained.
She said sexual exploitation is so normalized in Nevada, brothel workers are invited to schools for career day.
“That’s what happens when it’s framed like a job like any other,” Holland said.
“These are the real implications and how it bleeds into your culture.”
This article originally appeared in the New York Post.