Tuesday, May 20, 2014 | 5:23 p.m.
As an international tourist destination, Las Vegas is a magnet for sex trafficking. And members of Congress who represent the metropolitan area agreed today on what to do about it.
Despite party differences, members of Congress who represent the Las Vegas area supported five bills to strengthen outdated federal laws that have allowed sex trafficking to become the fastest-growing business for organized crime in America, with Las Vegas one of its hot spots.
“Human trafficking is a local, national and international epidemic that must be stopped,” Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican who represents Boulder City and Henderson, said in a statement after the House of Representatives passed the legislation.
“Today, we can take a step in the right direction. We can speak for those who have no voice,” Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat who represents the majority of Las Vegas, said in a speech on the House floor.
Rep. Steven Horsford, a Democrat who represents the northern Las Vegas valley, also voted for the bills.
“That is an unacceptable reality that we must fight to change,” he said.
One makes it a crime to advertise for sex trafficking, especially online, where underground websites are making millions of dollars. Another creates a $25 million grant program for the Justice Department to help communities more effectively prosecute traffickers and train first responders.
Other bills are focused on establishing better support systems for victims, most typically girls who average just 13 years old.
Metro Police already spend a substantial amount of time trying to rescue those girls; last year they rescued about 150 children from sex trafficking and have reported rescuing more than 2,000 since 1994, when national law enforcement agencies first started seeing a surge in sex trafficking.
“We’re a transient community that has a high tourist rate, and so this is the type of place that really attracts individuals who want to pimp out people through human trafficking,” Heck said at a human trafficking panel May 12 in Las Vegas. With District 2 Assemblyman John Hambrick, Heck also co-wrote an op-ed on the subject that appeared in today’s Las Vegas Sun.
The bills still face passage in the Senate, where even the most benign legislation has been halted lately by procedural debates. But getting five pieces of legislation through the House with bipartisan support is a major feat in today’s political climate, so anything could happen.