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Human trafficking task force reached 32 people over weekend

Updated February 15, 2021 - 7:00 pm

Thirty-two potential trafficking victims were offered assistance during a Super Bowl weekend operation by the Southern Nevada Human Trafficking Task Force.

The Metropolitan Police Department said there were 16 soliciting arrests and one loitering arrest on Friday and 59 soliciting arrests on Saturday. Of the 32 people interviewed, the department said, three were confirmed sex trafficking victims and 25 requested contact information for RISE advocates, who provide support for survivors through the local Rape Crisis Center.

Lt. William Matchko with Metro’s vice unit said the overall trafficking arrest numbers are down this year because of COVID-19, but he doesn’t think they’ll stay down.

“The numbers, overall, are down, and that directly relates to the number of tourists that are in the city,” Matchko said Wednesday. “So less people here means less demand.”

He said the task force prepares for tourist-heavy events like the Super Bowl, New Year’s Eve and big fight weekends, because traffickers use the increase in tourists in an attempt to fly under the radar and bring juveniles and trafficking victims into the city unnoticed.

The task force’s approach is often misunderstood, he said, adding that a common misconception is that law enforcement is out trying to arrest and book prostitutes. He explained that the criminal charges, while they likely won’t stick on a criminal record, provide officers an avenue to intervene and offer help to trafficking victims.

“These victims, they get arrested and now they’re separated from their trafficker and someone from the Child Exploitation Task Force comes in there in plain clothes to try and build a relationship with them and say, ‘Hey, look, I want to help you get out of this. What can we do?’” Matchko said. “We’re not trying to build their criminal record, we’re trying to get them out of this lifestyle.”

Local, 24-hour hotline support can be reached at 702-366-1640.

A previous version of this story listed the incorrect crisis line phone number.

Contact Alexis Ford at aford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter.

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