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Group lists Nevada on ‘Dirty Dozen’ of sexual exploitation

Updated February 11, 2019 - 7:04 pm

A national organization that calls out corporations and other U.S. institutions for fostering sexual exploitation took the unusual step Monday of naming Nevada as one of America’s top promoters of sex trafficking.

Nevada is the first state to ever make the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list of “major, mainstream facilitators of sexual exploitation.”

The Washington, D.C. advocacy group, which was founded in 1962 to document the links between pornography, child abuse and sex trafficking, placed the Silver State on its “ignominious” list because it says legalized prostitution in Nevada’s rural counties has turned the state into a “magnet for sex traffickers and prostitution tourists.”

“In the age of #MeToo, it’s important that people understand that the exchange of money, or something of value, to obtain a sex act is, itself, a form of sexual coercion,” said Lisa Thompson, the center’s vice president of policy and research, during a press conference unveiling its 2019 Dirty Dozen. “It’s time for Nevada to reform its prostitution laws by criminalizing those who sexually exploit others for pleasure and profit,” she said.

The center’s list includes the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, for selling childlike sex dolls and how-to books on sex trafficking; the premium cable network HBO, for producing shows like “Game of Thrones,” which incorporate graphic rape scenes; and the Massage Envy chain of spas, for allegedly mishandling reports of sexual assault.

But the organization, once known as Morality in Media, Inc., saved some of its harshest criticism for Nevada, calling it “home base for pimps and sex traffickers.” The organization wrote: “States and local communities profiting from prostitution (by tourist revenues), like pimps, are complicit in sexual exploitation. It’s time for Nevada to join the 21st century by recognizing that sexploitation is nobody’s job.”

Thompson said Nevada has the largest commercial sex trade in the country, adjusted for population. “It’s 63 percent higher than the next highest state of New York and double that of Florida,” she said.

Thompson was referring to a 2018 study by Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., which analyzed commercial sex advertising on 435 Backpage.com sites associated with various cities and locales around the country.

In naming Nevada to its “Dirty Dozen” list, the center also cited a recent audit by the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, which found that 34 percent of the brothel workers who registered to work in the county in 2017 displayed signs of potential sex trafficking. In November, nearly 81 percent of Lyon County voters rejected a plan to outlaw brothels in the county.

The center said on Monday that Lyon County residents who voted against the brothel ban are complicit in the sexual exploitation of “countless women.”

County Manager Jeff Page said in an email that critics have tried to tie legal brothels to sex trafficking, but no one has provided “tangible evidence” that it has occurred at Lyon County brothels.

“Lyon County is in the process of reviewing the brothel ordinance to ensure that processes are in place to ensure that sex trafficking does not take place,” Page said in the email. “Lyon County’s experience is it is much simpler to regulate prostitution than it is to investigate street and other illegal prostitution operations.”

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a statement Monday that “sex trafficking is a global problem” that can only be fought through “cross-agency collaboration.”

“Just last week, we signed an agreement joining the Southern Nevada Sex Trafficking Multidisciplinary Team to strengthen the fight against sex trafficking in Southern Nevada,” Ford said. “We’re proud to be a part of this collaborative effort to address a common problem in our communities and make an impact in the lives of those being victimized.”

Las Vegas resident Kevin Malone, the former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the president and co-founder of the non-profit U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, applauded Nevada’s inclusion on the center’s list.

“I look at it as a positive,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity for Nevada, for Gov. (Steve) Sisolak, to address the problems that Nevada has with sex trafficking,” he said.

Contact Brian Joseph at bjoseph@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5208. Follow @bjoseph1 on Twitter.

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