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A brothel, also known as a bordello, cathouse, whorehouse, sporting house and various other euphemisms, is an establishment specifically dedicated to prostitution, providing the prostitutes a place to meet and to have sexual intercourse with clients.


Today, brothels are illegal in the vast majority of jurisdictions; in the past, however, they were very common--in most European countries, brothels were made illegal after World War II. During the first half of the 20th century, France and Italy were famous for their brothels. France outlawed brothels in 1946 and Italy made them illegal in 1959. Today, Amsterdammarker is well known for its red-light district and is a destination for sex tourism.

In many countries, while officialy illegal, in practice brothels are tolerated.

Business models

Brothels use a variety of business models:
  • In some, the prostitutes are held in involuntary servitude without the option to leave, receiving only a small portion (or none) of the money paid by the patron. This is typical where human trafficking procures a large percentage of prostitutes, and is common in (though not limited to) countries where prostitution is forbidden or repressed. In some cases, prostitutes are bought and sold by their keepers, reducing them to a state of chattel slavery. All of these are illegal in most jurisdictions.
  • In others, the prostitutes are employees, receiving a small fixed salary and a portion of the money spent by the customer. (Maison close French for "closed house") The brothel owner receives the rest of the payment for services.
  • In the regulated brothels in Nevadamarker, the prostitutes are contract workers who split their earnings with the house and are often expected to "tip" support staff (cleaners, limo drivers, etc.); they receive no benefits, such as health insurance, and no withholding for Social Security taxes.
  • In still others, the prostitutes pay a fee for use of the facilities, with the brothel owner not being involved in the financial transaction between prostitute and client (maison de passe, French for "trick house").

In those countries which restrict or forbid prostitution, the latter provides some level of plausible denial to the facility owner, who often (thinly) disguises the brothel as a massage parlor, bar, strip club or similar.

Military brothels

Until recently, in several armies around the world, a mobile brothel service was attached to the army as an auxiliary unit, especially attached to combat units on long-term deployments abroad. It is estimated that a minimum of 34,140 women from occupied states, particularly in Poland, were forced to work as involuntary prostitute for the Nazis during WW2. While, during French and Japanese colonial campaigns of the 20th century, such employees were mainly recruited among the local populace of Northeast Asia and Africa; often, some of the women were underage. Because it is a touchy subject, military brothels were often designated with creative euphemisms. Notable examples of such jargon are ( ), replacing the term " ". Women forced into prostitution by the Japanese occupation armies throughout East Asia were known as "comfort battalions". The prostitutes were individually referred to as "military comfort women" or .

Nevada brothels

In the United States, the only state where brothels are legal is Nevada. Prostitution outside the licensed brothels is illegal throughout Nevada. Brothels are allowed only in counties with populations of fewer than 400,000 inhabitants, and not all qualifying counties have allowed them. Currently eight out of Nevadamarker's 16 counties have active brothels (these are all rural counties). As of June/July 2008, 28 legal brothels existed in Nevada. All forms of prostitution are illegal in Las Vegasmarker (and Clark Countymarker which contains its metropolitan area), Renomarker (and Washoe Countymarker), Carson Citymarker, and a few other places.

The brothels and their employees must register with the county sheriff and receive regular medical checkups. Brothels have existed in Nevada since the old mining days of the 1800s and were first licensed in 1971. The legendary Mustang Ranch operated from 1971 through 1999, when it was forfeited to the federal government following a series of convictions for tax fraud, racketeering, and other crimes.


In some countries, prostitution is illegal, in other countries prostitution itself (the exchange of sex for money) is legal, but most activities which surround it (such as operating a brothel, pimping, soliciting in a public place etc) are prohibited, many times making it very difficult for people to engage in prostitution without breaking any law , while in a few countries prostitution is legal and regulated. The degree of regulation varies widely by country. Most of these countries favor brothels, at least in theory, as they are considered to be less problematic than street prostitution.

See also


  1. "Liberating sex slaves in India", New Internationalist, Issue 390, June 2006.
  2. The Blessed Abyss: Inmate #6582 in Ravensbruck Concentration Prison for Women by Nanda Herbermann
  3. Caron, Christina. "Nevada Brothels Hit Hard by Gas Prices". ABC News, June 23, 2008. Accessed April 24, 2009.
  4. Associated Press. "Nevada Brothels Feel Pinch of Higher Fuel Prices". KTVN Channel 2, June 27, 2008. Accessed April 24, 2009.
  5. McKenna, Barrie (Toronto Globe and Mail). "Nevada brothel's 'shady' deal: Come often, get free gas". SFGate, July 4, 2008. Accessed April 24, 2009.

Further reading

  • DJ Tramp Steamer. 101 Brothels i Have Loved.
  • Burford, E. J. The Bishop's Brothels. London: Robert Hale, 1993. ISBN 9780709051138.
  • Ka-tzetnik 135633 (Karol Cetinsky). House of Dolls. Moshe M. Kohn (trans.). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955. A novel about the Holocaust, including a description of a brothel staffed by concentration camp inmates.

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