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More training, resources needed to combat sex trafficking, AG says

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Hundreds of Nevada children have been victims of sex trafficking, and penalties for the crimes must be increased, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto told members of the State Bar of Nevada Saturday morning.

Cortez Masto has fought sex trafficking as a key part of her portfolio, and got penalties for the crime increased significantly in a bill that became effective in July 2013. But she called on the 2015 Legislature to increase penalties for second and subsequent offenses, seal the records of victims who want to move on from the crimes and boost penalties against those who use the services of sex-trafficking victims. (Cortez Masto is term-limited and won’t be in office when the 2015 session convenes in February.)

She also said Nevada needs to increase social services available to sex trafficking victims, who are often alienated and susceptible to undue influence of their pimps, even after those offenders are arrested and charged with crimes. “I will tell you in our state there is not enough treatment for the victims,” Cortez Masto said.

And front-line police officers need additional training to recognize the signs of sex trafficking so they can help victims, many of whom won’t speak up for themselves.

“If law enforcement is not trained what to look for, they’re going to miss that kid,” Cortez Masto said. “We need to get law enforcement to start treating them as victims” and not voluntary participants in acts of prostitution, she added.

What are the signs? A sudden change in appearance, more provocative dress, drug use, and tattoos that pimps use to literally “brand” their women. And no child is immune: She said the daughter of an FBI special agent and a nurse was the victim of sex trafficking.

Pimps use all manner of tactics, ranging from psychological manipulation to feigned affections to threats and violence, either against the victims or their family members, Cortez Masto said. Once established, the bond between pimp and victim is hard to break, and pimps can often persuade their victims to recant statements made to police and prosecutors, or fail to show up for trials.

On other fronts, Cortez Masto says attorneys general are trying to make changes to the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a provision of which stipulates that the owners and publishers of websites are not liable for the content of forums, so long as they don’t edit the contents. That allows some people to profit from websites that deal in sex trafficking, but states are unable to prosecute the owners of those sites because they come under federal purview, she said.

Worldwide, sex trafficking is a $32 billion annual industry, with 27 million victims. Both adults and children can become victims of sex trafficking, she said. In Nevada, a hotline set up to help victims has logged nearly 900 calls since 2009, but that number is probably low, because not everyone knows it even exists.

Officials are trying to publicize that number, that of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is: 888-373-7888.

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