CARSON CITY — The father of a former teen prostitute along with advocates for children urged legislators Wednesday to pass a bill that would allow authorities to confiscate property from pimps and fine them as much as $1 million.
Forty percent of the funds raised from Assembly Bill 380 would be used to open safe houses and provide mental health care and other services for teenage prostitutes.
"There are predators out there," testified Las Vegas resident Joe Murrin. "These pimps have tricks up their sleeves. My daughter’s pimp got one year in prison."
His daughter, Murrin said, will have to live with what happened the rest of her life.
"It is easy to label these children as whores or prostitutes," said Susan Roske, a Clark County public defender. "But they are abused and traumatized children."
Murrin and Roske joined others in supporting the bill by Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, that would allow police to freeze the assets of pimps who control prostitutes under age 18.
Their assets would be forfeited if they are convicted on pandering or other charges. Sixty percent of what is seized would go to support the district attorney’s office prosecuting the case, and 40 percent would be used for programs to help the young prostitutes.
Hambrick said the district attorney needs the funds because pimps will hire high-priced lawyers to beat the charges.
"I want to be sure that no one who is guilty gets to skate," he said.
Fines of $1 million also could be levied against a pimp controlling girls under age 14.
Hambrick said pimps essentially put girls in a "slave-like situation."
Many of the girls are runaways or come from abusive homes. They typically have low self-esteem and figure "I guess I deserve to be with him," Hambrick said.
No one testified against the bill during an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing.
Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, took no vote on the bill, agreeing to let lawyers work on amendments.
Las Vegas police testified that they handled 150 cases of teen prostitution last year and 47 cases so far this year, including one at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
"The amount of money these panderers raise is staggering," Sgt. Victor Vigna said. "One recently had $400,000 in his house."
Children of the Night founder Lois Lee said Las Vegas has no shelters where young prostitutes can get help.
Lee founded Children of the Night in 1979. The organization tries to rescue young prostitutes in Los Angeles.
"It is embarrassing about the lack of programs for these girls in Nevada," Lee said. "Most Americans believe prostitution is legal in Las Vegas."
Murrin said he could not find a safe haven for his daughter in Nevada.
He said he went to Arizona, where he was told that help would be available for $4,000 a month.
What he found there was a suspicious, rundown hotel where there was no security for the girls.
Then he took his daughter to the Children of the Night facility in Los Angeles, where help was provided for free.
Ben Graham, a longtime deputy and lobbyist for the Clark County district attorney’s office, said the Assembly bill shows the changing attitude toward teen prostitutes, who once were considered criminals and now are recognized as victims.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.