Trafficking report cites LV problems

Las Vegas is a major hub for the sexual trafficking of children and possesses woefully inadequate services to help them, according to a report being released today.

The 167-page report, Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, was put together by Shared Hope International — a Virginia-based nonprofit working to prevent sex trafficking and provide support for boys and girls in the industry — with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The report focuses on American children who have been trafficked within the United States.

Children from across the country are trafficked to Las Vegas, where more than 400 prostituted children were identified on the streets during a single month last year, the report said.

"You’ve got a lot of really good people trying to solve this problem in Las Vegas, but it’s a big problem," said Linda Smith, president and founder of Shared Hope International.

Researchers for the nonprofit, including Alexis Kennedy, an assistant professor in UNLV’s Criminal Justice Department, compiled the report from information gathered during dozens of interviews in 2007 with representatives from 16 different local agencies that work with minors who have been trafficked.

The agencies included the FBI, Clark County Family Court, Clark County Juvenile Division, Metropolitan Police Department, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth and the Salvation Army.

"The top finding from Las Vegas was that it needs a safe place to keep them (trafficking victims) away from the pimps," Smith said. "That’s a hole throughout America."

Las Vegas was one of 10 U.S. locations for which Shared Hope International completed reports. Federal officials have recognized the city as one of 17 where human trafficking is a concern.

The report cites the "high-risk conditions of Las Vegas," including easy access to alcohol and drugs, nonstop gaming and the "hyper-sexualized entertainment industry" as contributing to the local problem.

There is no local safe house specifically used for sexually trafficked children, Smith said.

A program to provide counseling and treatment for teen prostitutes at WestCare recently closed.

Another problem in Las Vegas and elsewhere is that trafficked children are treated like delinquents instead of victims and often are punished more harshly by the justice system than are their pimps, Smith said.

"Some little girl will probably be arrested tonight for prostitution in Las Vegas, and the chances of her pimp or buyer going to jail is pretty much nil," she said.

None of this is news to Lt. Karen Hughes of Las Vegas police’s vice section.

"From an enforcement standpoint, our agency is forced to deal with them (juveniles arrested for prostitution) as both a suspect on a soliciting charge" and a victim, she said. "Is there a better way to do it? Probably. But it’s the system we’re in right now."

Family Court Judge William Voy is part of that system. His courtroom once each week is devoted to dealing with juveniles accused of prostitution-related charges. He calls it "sexually exploited youth court."

Voy expressed frustration at having nowhere but the detention center to send the youths who appear before him.

"These kids don’t really belong in juvenile justice but don’t fit anywhere else in the system," he said. "They’re out there being victimized but also committing a delinquent act, prostitution. There is no alternative but the detention center."

Voy and others who work with prostituted youths have been researching the possibility of creating a safe house for such juveniles, but plans are still in the early stages.

The prospect is problematic, too, because of the difficulties of working with juvenile prostitutes.

"They’re a class of victims who don’t perceive themselves as victims," Voy said. "They run on you, out the door, back to the street, back to their pimp."

"They don’t trust the police," Smith said. "The pimp has told them that the police will put them jail and the pimp will get them back anyway. In Las Vegas, the pimps are proven right."

Hughes said Las Vegas police last year arrested 157 juveniles on prostitution-related charges, 153 the year before.

"That doesn’t mean there aren’t more girls out there," she said. "It’s tragic."

Officials estimate that between 14,500 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country each year is between 100,000 and 300,000, Shared Hope International said.

The Anti-Trafficking League Against Slavery opened in 2006 within the Metropolitan Police Department to combat human trafficking in the valley.

ATLAS includes federal immigration officials, the FBI, the Salvation Army, Safe House, the Rape Crisis Center, Safe Nest, Nevada Child Seekers and the Boyd Law School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at or (702) 383-0285.

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