What Happens in Vegas… Could Get You 10 Years to Life

Unpacking the proposed Nevada sex trafficking legislation (Part 1) Why is a 39-page bill that criminalizes a whole lot of normal people being sold as a way to save the child sex slaves? Well, saving the (white female) child sex slaves has proven to be a powerful narrative. After all, who is actually for sex

Unpacking the proposed Nevada sex trafficking legislation (Part 1)

Why is a 39-page bill that criminalizes a whole lot of normal people being sold as a way to save the child sex slaves?

Well, saving the (white female) child sex slaves has proven to be a powerful narrative. After all, who is actually for sex trafficking of a minor, right? Only the most depraved among us. So, we must support this tough on crimes legislation. It’s a no-brainer to pass, no? NO. And herein lays the problem.

Is history repeating itself?

The historical link to the “white slavery” panic of the early 1900’s is hard to ignore. Prostitution in the U.S. was largely legal until changing women’s sexual norms led to a “white slavery” panic that resulted in the closing of brothels with the White-Slave Traffic Act, better known as the Mann Act in 1910. According to historian Mark Thomas Connelly, “a group of books and pamphlets appeared announcing a startling claim: a pervasive and depraved conspiracy was at large in the land, brutally trapping and seducing American girls into lives of enforced prostitution, or ‘white slavery.’” The reality was numerous young women were drawn into prostitution for “mundane” economic reasons. The ambiguous language of the Mann Act allowed selective prosecutions and was used to criminalize forms of consensual sexual behavior for many years.

Although human trafficking can be defined as being put in a situation of economic exploitation that you can’t get out of; rather than focusing on forced labor, servitude and slavery-like conditions, the trafficking framework has been used in selective ways. The general conception in the U.S. is that all human trafficking is sex trafficking. This conception developed because a crusade against prostitution attempted to conflate sex work with human trafficking, a claim for which there is no evidence, even according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

An executive summary of human trafficking put forth by the non-profit Center for Health and Gender Equity concludes that “conflating human trafficking with prostitution results in ineffective anti-trafficking efforts and human rights violations because domestic policing efforts focus on shutting down brothels and arresting sex workers, rather than targeting the more elusive traffickers.”

Misconceptions about the problem are fueled by sensationalized stories that’s simplicity in the child sex slave narrative makes them potent, haunting, and easy to mobilize around. Enforcement resources and investigations in the U.S. are going into a group of human trafficking task forces focusing almost entirely on commercial sex. It is a structure built on vice squads rather than labor investigators.

Some testimony to the legislature on sex trafficking bill AB67 (& related AB113) from the first hearing on Wednesday, February 20th provides an enlightening perspective.

Issue #1:  Vague and overly broad definitions—is our goal to put more people in prison?

From the Clark County Public Defender’s Office:

“The substantially increased penalties in Section 42 of AB67, including life sentences in some cases, are particularly concerning given the vagueness of the law. While nobody disagrees that a violent child sex trafficker deserves a lengthy prison term, the concern is that individuals will receive substantial prison terms that are not merited by their conduct … making it more serious than an attempt(ed) murder charge.”

“AB67 likely runs afoul of the vagueness doctrine, which holds that ‘[a] conviction fails to comport with due process if the statute under which it is obtained fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what is prohibited, or is so standardless that it authorizes or encourages serious discriminatory enforcement.’ U.S. v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 304 (2008). For example, the addition of the phrase ‘or other thing of value’ to the definition of prostitution in Section 8 could criminalize innocent conduct between persons in a committed relationship.”

“Furthermore, because there is no carve out for the legal prostitution that exists in Nevada, Nevadans are left to wonder whether they would be prosecuted under this statute for engaging in otherwise legal conduct, such as driving a legal sex worker to her place of employment. In addition, discriminatory enforcement by law enforcement is a strong possibility, especially because the vast majority of the prosecutions in Clark County arise out of law enforcement undercover sting operations that seem to disproportionately target African-American males. Simply stated, it is insufficient to leave it up to prosecutors and/or judges to determine what the law means and how it is to be applied.”

FACT: United Nations member states have recently mandated a study on the use of the “trafficking” framework. The concern is that due to opportunities lent by vagueness of definitions; the issue of trafficking has been sidetracked and used to further particular political agendas that often have little to do with protecting people from exploitation and abuse.

Issue #2: Where is the data and evidence of this huge scary problem?

At the February 2nd “From Prosecution to Empowerment” human trafficking conference at USC, Attorney Martina Vandenberg, founder of the pro bono organization Civil Justice: The Human Trafficking Legal Resource Center expressed: “In the field of human trafficking, I detest data because most of it is made up and bogus. It is really an appalling area.”

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto testified at the hearing and stated in the media that the Polaris Project, a national human trafficking organization out of Washington, DC that sent their policy director here to help write our state legislation, has identified a huge sex trafficking ring between Nevada and California that presumably runs from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Reno to Sacramento. Yet, when asked if there was evidence to back this claim Polaris Project’s Policy Program Director, Mary Ellison submitted this:

“In 2012, the NHTRC (National Human Trafficking Resource Center) Hotline received 174 calls from Nevada. Out of these calls, twenty-one (21) of them were classified as crisis calls, and forty-eight (48) of them were classified as tips from community members reporting suspected trafficking. The NHTRC had fourteen (14) cases from Nevada in 2012 that involved minors and had a total of forty-one (41) cases that had ‘high’ or ‘moderate’ indicia of human trafficking situations.”

Where is the evidence of the mass human trafficking ring? What happened to these cases and how many people were rescued or arrested?

The reality is there is no systematic state or local data on human trafficking. Furthermore, the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) community project that began to collect data on youth engaging in the sex trades in Las Vegas a couple years ago has been suspended for the past year. Previous studies completed in NYC and Atlantic City painted a portrait of youth who were rarely forced into the sex trades by a pimp trafficker, but rather homeless due to lack of a social safety net and participating in an informal economy of sex exchange for financial reasons. Street youth commonly report being abused more by the police than by pimps.

Issue #3: Who stands to benefit? Or follow the money (and motives)…

There is a lot of federal money available for anti-trafficking efforts in a time of austerity and sequestration when many budgets are being slashed. A little known fact is that the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) that just passed had the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) added to it as an amendment reauthorizing funding though 2017 after expiring at the end of 2011. The U.S. State Department’s definition of trafficking includes any person under 18 found to perform commercial sex and any commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Law enforcement and non-profit service providers work together in a closed loop network of “rescue industry” funding. Where is the oversight and accountability for waste, fraud, or abuse to prevent corruption? According to a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General Michon Martin, oversight and accountability for the monetary beneficiaries of the sex trafficking legislation are “beyond the scope of this bill.” Hmmm….

Kids Caught in the Culture Wars: Is This Really about Protecting Youth?

Law Enforcement: Is this about Arrest Numbers?

Judge William Voy of Clark County District Court Family Division testified he would keep youth who were arrested for engaging in sex trades in a “controlled therapeutic setting where the children could not run from” or they would forcibly be returned by staff. It was unclear how long they would remain in the “safe house,” but he did indicate until prosecution and vice work with the child as a witness to develop testimony against their “perpetrators.” Does he realize the newly reauthorized TVPA “provides assurance that a minor victim of sex trafficking shall not be required to collaborate with law enforcement to have access to residential care or services provided with a grant under this section?”

The inclusion of all juvenile prostitutes as trafficked has presented obvious problems. U.S. research points out that only a minority fit the “forced by a third party” trafficking profile. There is a clear difference between juveniles who are forced into the sex industry by the sex slavery black market and juveniles who are homeless or living in abject poverty with no other recourse but to sell sexual services. Tying assistance to the identification of a pimp is often counterproductive and fails to help the victims who need it most.

Evangelical Non-Profits: Is this a Moral Crusade?

Lisa Thompson, liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking for the Salvation Army, during a recent presentation at The Justice Conference stated: “Sex trafficking is a battle of ideas.” The Church in America too often does not do enough to address the ideology upon which sex trafficking is based – “an ideology that disassociates sex from love, responsibility and children.” Thompson explained: “One of the reasons sex trafficking is flourishing is that we, as a Church, do not do enough to address the ideology that disassociates sex from love.” She continued: “Sex is not work. God did not create any woman for the purpose, excuse me, that she be a cum receptacle.”

In her testimony to the Nevada legislature, Melissa Holland said that her organization in Reno, Awaken INC (“In the Name of Christ”) was in the process of getting both a safe house and transitional housing in place for the victims of sex trafficking. If religious education and activities are a compulsory aspect of the services provided to clients, I hope she realizes that could be a human rights violation. It would also go against separation of church and state, disqualifying them from receipt of federal funds for trafficking services. I have to agree, “I don’t think prayer is among the recognized best practices for fighting human trafficking.”

Where are the Real Solutions? Prevention Over Prison

Three simple steps to ending sex (and other labor) trafficking, exploitation, and abuse:

1) Stable sustainable wage income

2) Affordable long-term housing

3) Equitable education opportunities

The major driver of human rights abuses, including trafficking is vast economic inequality. Only rights can stop the wrongs.

Jennifer Reed

Posts Carousel

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


  • […] In her testimony, Melissa Holland said that her organization in Reno, Awaken INC (“In the Name of Christ”) was in the process of getting both a safe house and transitional housing in place for the victims of sex trafficking. If religious education and activities are a compulsory aspect of the services provided to clients, I hope she realizes that could be a human rights violation. It would also go against separation of church and state, jeopardizing the receipt of federal funds for trafficking services. I have to agree, “I don’t think prayer is among the recognized best practices for fighting human trafficking.” Cross posted from The Nevada View. […]

  • Glendene Grant
    March 8, 2013, 10:41 am

    News laws are good, and laws to prevent human trafficking are greatly needed to save all victims of human trafficking – children and adults.

    And for the record, I am not against prostitution, IF (and that is a big IF) the person is actually CHOOSING it on their own free will (well, and if it is not hurting others). And trust me folks, that is a lot farther and fewer between, when it comes to those choosing prostitution. I actually don’t care to tell anyone what to do or not to do, if they WANT to, but that conversation is for another time.

    Too bad this was not taken more seriously when my daughter, Jessie Foster, was taken from Canada to Las Vegas on May 13, 2005. She was kept there for 10 months, and when she was planning on coming home for a family wedding, she went missing. Jessie is the victim of human trafficking, and has been missing since March 29, 2006 … for 7 long years. When Jessie went missing, Detective Dave Molnar of the North Las Vegas Police Department told me: 1) she probably took off and left her family, and wants nothing to do with us (even though I reminded him that she was in another country, far from her family and did not need to go anywhere to ‘leave’ us) OR 2) she is dead, buried in the Mojave somewhere and her remains will likely turn up some day! DISMISSING THE FACE THAT SHE ‘COULD BE’ A MISSING PERSON, TO WHICH SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED. DISMISSING THE FACT THAT SHE IS CONSIDERED BY MANY EXPERTS IN THE FIELD, TO BE A VICTIM OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING.

    So, my goal it not to STOP PROSTITUTION, it is to STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING – in all forms. But for those of you who will say something about this: I work to stop sex-trafficking because that is what happened to my daughter, not because I believe it is the only type of human trafficking that exists. There are many forms of modern-day slavery. There are child and adult trafficking and it happens in the sex trade, with forced labor, and domestic work.

    So, with Las Vegas proudly calling itself SIN CITY and announcing for decades that WHAT HAPPENS THERE STAYS THERE, it is no wonder that Jessie’s disappearance so long ago was initially dismissed by those in charge of her case. BUT THAT WAS THEN … THIS IS NOW. And it is time to bring in new laws to make changes to this horrific crime that has moved from the 3rd largest illegal crime in the world to the 2nd largest money making illegal crime in the world. WHAT IS NEXT: #1! STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING NOW BEFORE IT GETS THERE!!

    Another point that needs to be address is that people want PROOF. They want statistics and evidence they can look at or hold in their hand. Human traffickers are smarter than that. Do you think that this crime has freely existed all these years because of all the evidence they leave behind. The traffickers are a good at their job as every one of you all are at yours. As the person who wrote this article, to the mayor of your city, to the president of your country or whomever you choose to use as an example of someone who is very good at their job. THAT IS HOW GOOD TRAFFICKERS ARE AT THEIRS. So, if you want proof, I will tell you what is proof enough for me: 1) Jessie vanished from one day to the other, last words to her sister were: TALK TO YOU TOMORROW … 2) the person she was “engaged” to giving me 3 different stories about the last time he saw her (this person is known to the police as a violent pimp, someone that officers have tried for years to arrest, but have never been able to get any of his victims to speak up, out of fear) … 3) all Jessie’s belongs went missing when she did EXCEPT her hairdryer and her makeup (THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MOMENT: a beautiful 21-year-old woman takes all her things, but leaves her items that are in the bathroom … does that sound likely? NOT TO ME).

    SO, sorry people, there is no trail of breadcrumbs leading us to the answers, they need to be investigated, but the officer(s) in charge let that fall far through the cracks and now it has been 7 years.

    Since Jessie’s disappearance, things are looked at much differently and people are getting recognized as possible human trafficking victims, and Jessie’s detective on the case ignores my calls and messages, and 3 members in that department, including Molnar, send my emails back to me MARKED AS SPAM!!

    That won’t stop me. I will raise awareness to this crime without the evidence some of you demand. I have helped families escape the fate that we live daily. I do it all in Jessie Foster’s name.


  • Vegan Vixen
    March 8, 2013, 12:46 pm

    If even one person is trafficked, that’s one to many. Thus, Glendene is right that this isn’t just about numbers. However, promoting questionable statistics as un-disputable facts or organizations pulling statistics “out of their asses” trivializes the issues of human trafficking.

    I don’t even know what this term -human trafficking-means anymore. I used to think it meant slavery, but have learned it is used so much more broadly than that, against people who aren’t necessarily enslaving or exploiting anybody. This proposed Nevada legislation is another piece of cliche legislation that does this. There’s nothing progressive or innovative about it. It’s the same type of legislation that uses the U.S. government’s definition of trafficking that has resulted in the incarceration and major human rights abuses of sex workers–not for trafficking anybody but for working as prostitutes either in reality or through suspicion. Here’s a tragic example of this. Please read the blurb under the video so you know what this is about and how it’s connect to U.S. -imposed trafficking legislation that conflates all prostitution with trafficking: .

    If any trafficked people were picked up in the raids against sex workers described in the video above, then they would have likely been subject to these abuses too. Even when the abuses aren’t so extreme, trafficking legislation must never, ever, ever be used as a smoke screen to further criminalize and incarcerate sex workers. Not only is this a horrible abuse, but it also shifts the focus away from stopping slavery.

    If this proposed Nevada legislation were really mainly about stopping sex slavery like the proponents say, then there would be preventative measures that make it less likely to happen in the first place, which there aren’t. Nothing in the bill about community-based outreach, education, safety nets for people at risk of trafficking, etc. Also, the legislation would not further criminalize people who aren’t trafficking anybody. This legislation defines trafficking so broadly that sex workers who work together could be charged with trafficking. For example, this legislation defines trafficking so broadly that transporting somebody to a prostitution session could be considered trafficking, whether there’s force or not. Thus, if two sex workers works together and one drives both to a session with a client–the one who does the driving could be charged with trafficking the other, even without force or threat of force. This is still a crime under existing laws, but if this legislation passes, it will now become trafficking–with a stiffer penalty for people (e.g. sex workers working together) who should not even be criminalized in the first place. Sex workers may work together as a safety precaution and need not be criminalized at all for doing this, nonetheless further criminalized.

    Glendine’s comments about the police being non-responsive to her daughter being trafficked tells me that there needs to be more focus on enforcing the existing laws against slavery, not that we need more laws. What’s the point of creating new laws if the laws we already have aren’t being enforced or aren’t being enforced enough. What makes anybody think that the new laws would be enforced anymore if the ones we already have aren’t. However, these trafficking laws are being enforced against sex workers who aren’t trafficking anybody. Anybody who cares at all about stopping actual slavery needs to have real concerns about this legislation. It makes a mockery out of the seriousness of slavery for the reasons I explained and more.

  • Jennifer Reed
    March 8, 2013, 4:27 pm

    Glendene, As for people choosing sex work, we must have a much broader conversation about choice and necessity to secure resources which is bigger than this post. How many people freely choose to work at Walmart or McDonald’s for below a living wage? Where are the viable alternatives in the current economy?

    As a mother and a grandmother, my heart goes out to you. No parent should EVER have to endure such a terrible loss. I wish this legislation really did address just that. How would this law have benefited your daughter?

    I appreciate Vegan Vixen’s comments in response. I have been a volunteer with the Sex Workers Outreach Project-Las Vegas since 2008. I have also worked with homeless and at-risk youth, helping to found a non-profit in Ohio, the Packard Institute before moving to Las Vegas to pursue my PhD. I have seen these types of laws used against our most vulnerable, including homeless youth and consensual adult sex workers.

    An additional population this affects is migrants. The ACLU of Nevada conveyed the concern to the legislature that transporting an undocumented person from Los Angeles to Las Vegas at their request for payment would be defined as “trafficking” and harshly punishable under this statute (as consent is not able to be used as a defense according this bill).

    When sex workers and undocumented immigrants are already criminalized, how are they supposed to come forward about truly abusive and exploitative situations to the very authorities who seek to arrest, and in the case of migrants deport them? The institutionalized abuse, including rape reported by these populations by police brings into question giving them more power to “rescue.” It appears that particular officers are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the abuse although police culture unfortunately tends to support it.

    Of youth engaging in the sex trades, research shows nearly half are boys, but boys are rarely arrested and mostly left alone by the highly male police force. (The not so PC running joke is that homophobia works in the young men’s favor.) In New York, there is a community campaign for police accountability to promote public safety through cooperation and respect (Communities United for Police Reform). Perhaps Nevada should follow suit.

  • Doc hollywood
    March 8, 2013, 7:02 pm

    Most Laws in the US on this subject are just plain stupid.

    Canada, where prostitution IS legal, provided 3 obvious big No-No’s are not commited (discuss it in public, running a bawdy house, and being a pimp) provides a much safer environment for sex workers. In my experience, all smart sex workers in Canada feel confident and safe and perform their chosen profession with dignity and are rewarded for it. These are independent workers who use private communication (telephone, internet, e-mail, etc) and do everything legally. The same can be found in many other countries.

    For Americans to equate in any way sex work with human traffic is plain ridiculous. Ask reputable canadian sex workers for real life experiences. American laws making the oldest profession illegal, with the exception of a few counties in Nevada, have created a very unsafe and dangerous environment for sex workers. Americans could learn from many countries where human trafficking is considerably very low in comparison, and where criminal rates are almost insignificant in comparison.

    I feel very sorry for the canadian lady who lost her daughter. With all due respect, I believe her efforts are misguided. What America needs is to re-evaluate all their legislation, look out at what has worked or not in other countries, and actually move on from their ultra conservative stance to the opposite direction. When it comes to sex workers, Canada is the real land of the free where people respect other people’s choices and other people’s rights and no one is allowed to run personal vendettas on others who may have different values or make different choices.

    • Gautam@Doc hollywood
      April 9, 2013, 9:13 pm

      Three questions I would like to dicsuss for next week (Sept. 21st) are:1. How does technology affect human trafficking?2. How do international authorities affect HT?3. Are there significant differences in how HT operations are run depending on the victims’ purpose? (i.e., are those trafficked for labor managed very differently from those trafficked for sex?)


Latest Posts

Top Authors

Most Commented

Featured Videos