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September 4, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

A journey from good student to underage prostitute

Image

Leila Navidi

Lauren, 18, inside her home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Lauren was 16 in 2010, a good if slightly rebellious student at Advanced Technologies Academy, one of the best high schools in the valley. She went to a party one August night and met Darrell, then 20. She fell for him.

“Nobody made me feel the way he made me feel,” she said recently.

“I don’t know. I guess he said the right words. He got in my head. He did what he had to do. And when I love, I love hard.”

Within a few weeks, she’d ditched school, run away from home and moved in with Darrell in a complicated household in the southeast valley.

He was good looking and funny, and they laughed easily together. They were lovers and best friends.

There were worrisome signs, however, as he could become violent without warning, once slamming her against his car.

Then, Lauren recalled, one night that October, Darrell told her, “If you love me, you’ll put this dress on and put these shoes on, and you’ll go make some money so we can live the way you want to live and get the things you want to get.”

His meaning was clear, that she would become a prostitute for him.

“It didn’t sound good, but the way he made it seem, it was like, this should show him that I really like him, that I have feelings for him.”

She was sent out with another woman who worked for Darrell’s father, who was also a pimp. They all lived in the same house.

After finding a customer in a casino parking lot, Lauren came home with $150 and got in the bathtub. “I just sat there,” she said. “You feel really nasty, disgusted with yourself.”

Pot alleviated the pain, though not much.

Darrell explained the rules: She would work every night except Sunday and Wednesday. He gave her a quota: $500 per night, one way or another.

When she came home with money, he was affectionate. If not, he was cold.

There were also bouts of violence. One time, she recalled, “I guess I said something smart, and I said, ‘I wanna leave. I wanna leave.’ He said, ‘You think you’re going to leave?’ ” He put his gun to her head.

She sobbed at this memory.

On it went. He procured a fake ID for her because, remember, she was just 16 and, as now, looked young for her age. Still, she worked the casinos, including, she said, the biggest and best-known properties on the Las Vegas Strip.

She would often sit at a casino bar and listlessly gamble, waiting to find customers. She believes they must have known she was underage.

“It’s all, all humiliation. When you’re out and about, people know what you’re doing. They’re saying, ‘She looks so pretty, but look what she’s doing? And she’s a little baby.’ ”

She was arrested for solicitation of prostitution on Nov. 24, 2010. Metro Police, which aggressively pursues pimps through its Pandering Investigation Team, asked Lauren to turn in her pimp. She didn’t.

Once out of juvenile detention and back home with her mother, she cut her ankle bracelet and returned to Darrell.

Soon after, they were stopped by police, and Lauren shoved a quarter pound of Darrell’s marijuana into her purse to protect him. She was sent to detention for 30 days.

That year, she said ruefully, she spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in lockup.

This is what she thought about during that holiday season: “I knew in the back of my head that he was doing that to somebody else and making them feel like the way he made me feel,” she said.

Released in January, she went back to Darrell, and soon she was pregnant with his child.

Naturally, you’re wondering why she would allow herself to be abused like this. Lauren does too.

But police and mental health professionals and social workers see these situations all of the time.

Lauren defied her family and court-ordered supervisors, who all knew the root of her problem.

She was sent back out in April. “We were going to have a baby, so I needed to make money.”

This time, Darrell was more careful, creating an online ad, rather than having her work the casino floors.

On her second trip out, she was again arrested, with police apparently relying on an anonymous informant.

“Once I got caught, it was like, ‘Oh wow, this is old,’ ” she said. “I was tired of lying and lying. Once you lie, you have to keep lying.”

And with this simple and yet improbable epiphany, the fight to reclaim herself began.

Read Part 2 about Lauren’s journey and the broader problem of underage prostitution in Las Vegas.

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