64°F
weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Las Vegas nonprofit embraces victims of sex trafficking

Updated September 21, 2017 - 7:43 am

Esther Rodriguez Brown saw panic in the young woman’s eyes. After about 10 years of serving victims of sex trafficking, it is a look she knows well.

Earlier that day, the 19-year-old had escaped her pimp and called a hotline for help. Rodriguez Brown and her east Las Vegas nonprofit, The Embracing Project, agreed to keep the girl safe while another organization arranged to get her home to Minnesota.

Late in the afternoon, the other agency told the girl it would purchase her a Greyhound bus ticket. Rodriguez Brown instantly knew this was a bad idea: bus stations are a prime recruiting spot for pimps.

The girl was wide-eyed with fear. So Rodriguez Brown said she dipped into her own pocket and bought the girl a plane ticket home. “She’s a godsend,” the girl’s aunt, Heidi Rivers, said in a phone interview. “There would be a lot of girls out there looking for answers” if The Embracing Project were not around, she said.

Today, Rodriguez Brown’s nonprofit is a leading advocate for sexually exploited youths in Clark County, which is one of the nation’s hot spots for sex trafficking, experts said. In a strip mall at North Pecos Road and East Charleston Boulevard, Rodriguez Brown and two staff members operate The Center 4 Peace, where teenage victims can drop in at any time, attend school, receive counseling and mentorship, or just hang out in a safe place. The organization serves as many as 300 children a year, Rodriguez Brown said.

The Embracing Project is celebrating its 10-year anniversary Thursday, on the International Day of Peace. In the evening, it will host a silent auction, dinner and ceremony honoring U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and plastic surgeon Dr. Julio Garcia for their work benefiting sexually exploited youths, at the Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

The Embracing Project is founded on what Rodriguez Brown, 48, describes as a John Lennon-inspired commitment to humanitarianism. Unlike other programs, which sometimes lose patience with this notoriously difficult population, Rodriguez Brown prides herself on always welcoming girls, even if they repeatedly run afoul of the law or resume destructive habits.

“I don’t care how many times you go back to your pimp. I don’t care how many times you run away,” said Rodriguez Brown, a Spaniard and practicing Buddhist. “I’m going to be here for you.”

Her approach has won her widespread praise locally. The agency works with most trafficking victims who pass through juvenile court, and many come to rely on “Miss Esther” for guidance on everything from escaping their pimps to ordering their birth certificates to work applications.

“They taught me not to give up on myself, even when I was down and I didn’t have any hope,” said 18-year-old Phenix King, an alumna of the program. “They never stopped caring for me.”

Rodriguez Brown said The Embracing Project operates “paycheck to paycheck” and could use a larger facility. The organization has about 2,000 square feet of usable space, but Rodriguez Brown said she needs more than double that to comfortably accommodate the children she serves. She’d also like a facility with a shower and kitchen, so her clients could have a place to get cleaned up and learn life skills.

The organization is constantly searching for more resources. Its future is always in doubt. Rodriguez Brown admits the stress of it all has made her think about quitting. But then she remembers the girls she serves, and realizes she can’t give up — their needs are too great.

“I’m a hustler,” she said. “I’ll find a way.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
CCSD police on the arrest of Deamonte Warren - VIDEO
CCSD police arrested Chaparral High School custodian Deamonte Warren on Friday on three counts of a school employee having sex with a student and an additional count of providing alcohol to a minor. (Courtesy CCSD Police)
Woman charged with sex trafficking an 11-year-old girl on the Strip (Michael Quine)
Gigi Mitchell faces seven felony charges including sex trafficking and child abuse for bringing an 11-year-old girl to the Las Vegas Strip to work as a prostitute.
Bel Air Drive Officer Involved Shooting Presser - Video
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly goes over the officer-involved shooting on Bel Air Drive.
Former Las Vegas police officer get 25 life sentences for sexually abusing child
Former Las Vegas Police officer Bret Theil was sentences to 25 consecutive life sentences at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for sexually abusing a child over a decade. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Man pushed off bus in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police arrested 25-year-old Cadesha Bishop on May 6, after she allegedly pushed Serge Fournier, 74, off of a parked bus near Fremont Street and 13th Street about 4:50 p.m. March 21.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
$1 million bail set for mother charged with drowning 2-year-old daughter
The 44-year-old mother who police say drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bathtub in a northeast Las Vegas apartment on Saturday made her first court appearance on Tuesday, May 14th.
Officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child appears in court
Matthew James Terry, a Las Vegas police officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child, appears in court Monday morning, May 13, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police seek hit-and-run driver
A motorcycle officer pulled over a Mercedes SUV, and after the officer came to a stop, it shifted into reverse, intentionally hitting the officer.
Thedrick Andres becomes Henderson Police Department acting chief
Henderson Police Department Acting Chief Thedrick Andres speaks about his goals in his new position at the Henderson Police headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 dead, 1 wounded after east valley neighborhood shooting
One man and one woman are dead and another man wounded after a shooting Thursday afternoon in an east valley neighborhood.
Bail denied for former police detective charged with murder
Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Man fatally shot during a 'beer skip'
A store clerk is being questioned after a man was fatally shot during a robbery at a gas station Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Las Vegas police give details on fatal shooting
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer gives a briefing on a fatal shooting near downtown Las Vegas that occurred on March 27, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas community pays tribute to boy killed by car
The community joined friends and family at Wilbur & Theresa Faiss Park, Wednesday evening, to remember the boy who was struck and killed by a car crossing South Fort Apache Road from Faiss Park, near West Maule Avenue, on Monday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
Metro briefs media on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Police address media about officer-involved shooting that started on Maryland and Vegas Valley, and concluded downtown, near the Golden Nugget.
Update on OIS at Vegas Valley and Maryland
The incident began at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical parking lot and ended downtown.
Amy And Spencer Powell Recount Hit And Run
Amy Powell and her son Spencer recount the day Spencer was hit by a truck while riding his bike. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah arrested in Amarillo, TX
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah was arrested in Amarillo, TX on a Nye County warrant for open murder, burglary, obtaining money under false pretense, use of credit card w/o owner consent, and destruction of evidence. (Nye County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)
Metro Presser For OIS 6 (Full)
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Metro Presser For OIS 6
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Domestic disturbance call ends in suicide
A man died by suicide after police tried negotiating with him outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home on March 13. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by Las Vegas police
A 20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by a Las Vegas officer on Saturday night is also accused of burglarizing a Boys & Girls Club minutes before the shooting.
Commercial Robbery On 3000 Block Of North Las Vegas Blvd - VIDEO
On February 19th, 2019, at approximately 10:23 am, a robbery occurred to a business located on the 3000 block of North Las Vegas Boulevard. The pictured suspect entered the business, approached the counter and pointed a firearm at the victim demanding money. The victim complied and the suspect fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported.
DEA Launches New Program To Combat Opioid Epidemic
The Drug Enforcement Administration is launching a new effort in Nevada to combat the opioid epidemic.
THE LATEST