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Human trafficking and Nevada

It is one of the most successful ad campaigns in the history of this city — “What happens here, stays here.” Anyone can probably figure out what this means in reality. On rare occasions, however, it does not work that way.

Consider a recent story appearing on the local news but also in at least two California papers.

The news item was about a Las Vegas sting called “Operation Doll House” that targeted “residential brothels” which resulted in the arrest of the sheriff and undersheriff from San Mateo County in Northern California. These two were staying at Mandalay Bay and apparently the sheriff wanted some “Vegas action” (which almost always means using the services of women). He asked a cabdriver to take them to where he could get a “massage” (and we all know what that usually means).

The driver took them to a very upscale neighborhood in the southern part of Clark County. By his own admission the sheriff thought this was perfectly legal, stating that, “I believed I was going to a legitimate business. It was not.”

Yeah, right.

During this raid, two minors were also arrested.

This brings my point. The trafficking in young girls for purposes of prostitution is a worldwide billion-dollar industry involving tens of thousands of victims annually, many of whom are children. This is not surprising because in a capitalist economy anything and everything is a “commodity” for sale — including our own children. The FBI estimates that more than 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. The average age is about 11.

It has an impact right here in Las Vegas where literally tens of thousands of young girls come into the city to conduct their business. The vast majority are not from Las Vegas.

How do they get here? Some are sent airline tickets paid for by pimps; some are driven up by pimps from other cities such as Los Angeles and Phoenix. Metro police arrest between 10 and 20 girls each month; there are probably 10 times that number who are not caught.

My sources tell me that you can see the girls on the Strip plying their trade as their pimps stand on the overpasses yelling at them, apparently giving orders. You can see them sitting at the valet area of Strip hotels (they pay the valets to let them sit there so that they appear to be waiting for their parents or otherwise engaging in some other legitimate activity).

You also see them walking the floors in slippers with only a cell phone and a few business cards (giving potential clients their number to call if they are interested in “partying”) attached to the phone. One of the reasons they wear slippers is so that they appear to be staying at the hotel and are merely walking about like other hotel guests. All of this activity is done with the apparent knowledge of hotel executives, because, I have been told, these girls help promote business.

Nevada is the “black eye” of the United States when it comes to human trafficking because in some areas prostitution is legal (and everywhere else perfectly OK). This undermines federal efforts to address this serious problem. (The feds are trying to stop trafficking via the Trafficking Victim Protection Act.) I have been told that federal officials, in their attempts at prevention, laugh at Nevada because we sort of “wink” at the problem (after all, it contributes so much to the local economy).

As you drive into Las Vegas along Interstate 15 from California, you can’t help but notice signs advertising various “escort” services. And the way these signs are worded, it is obvious to a 10-year-old what is really going on — yet technically prostitution is illegal in Clark County.

The trafficking of children is more than just an international problem — it is our problem.

Randall G. Shelden is a professor in the Criminal Justice Department at UNLV. His Web site is www.sheldensays.com.

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