About 72 percent of the juvenile victims of human trafficking in Nevada come from within the state, experts said Wednesday.
And human trafficking may be on the rise, according to the experts, who spoke at a seminar on the topic hosted by the Homeland Security Investigations field office in Las Vegas.
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts said Las Vegas police investigated 141 cases involving juvenile prostitution, with 81 juvenile arrests for the act, last year. So far this year, the department has had 61 cases.
Human trafficking includes the recruitment, harboring, or transportation of a person for labor through use of force and often involves prostitution.
More than 100 people attended Wednesday’s seminar, held at the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. They came from local faith-based groups, law enforcement and resort security departments.
The seminar underscored the importance of collaboration among agencies. Daniel Bogden, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, said pooling resources has been critical to prosecuting offenders.
Michael Harris, assistant special agent with Homeland Security in Las Vegas, said local and state cooperation was particularly helpful during Operation Protect the Powerless, a joint six-month effort in 2014 that resulted in the prosecution and conviction of 219 people in cases related to child molestation and pornography.
Harris added that new technology such as social media is a “blessing and a curse” because it allows law enforcement to find offenders online but also gives offenders more anonymity.
Henderson police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Stilson echoed the sentiment, saying the city’s two detectives working with the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force are experts in the field but still have to keep up with advancements in technology. The task force has 40 open cases so far this year.
“As they (Internet predators) get better, we have to get better. As they get new technology to hide their work, we’re constantly playing catch-up,” he said.
UNLV professor M. Alexis Kennedy was awarded one of six grants last year from the Department of Justice to study the issue from a victim’s point of view. The $623,600 grant will allow her to evaluate social services for victims of human trafficking through about 50 interviews with local survivors.
Preventing the sexual abuse of children requires a holisitic approach, she said. The community needs to take a hard look at everything from domestic violence to sex education in schools.
“We have to look at the hard numbers here, which are the fact that we are failing our kids in middle school and high school in terms of helping prevent abuse,” she said. “How do we prevent our kids from falling into this really un-glamorous world of prostitution?”
“This is a crazy town to grow up in,” she said.
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