Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2018

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Training session teaches ways to spot human trafficking

Local community service providers were scheduled to meet at UNLV today for a daylong training event designed to teach them how to spot and help the victims of human trafficking.

The training is part of an initiative to battle slavery that has brought together more than 30 local agencies brought under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Rescue and Restore Coalition that was announced Tuesday.

Clark County Salvation Army coordinator, Maj. William Raihl, said that it was extremely important for agencies and service providers who come in contact with victims to have an awareness about human trafficking.

"We see these people but because of fear they stay silent," Raihl said. "This coalition is a safety net for the victims of human trafficking allowing them to come forward and get the help they need.

"Human trafficking causes a hidden suffering, and it is not easily seen among the glitz and lights of Las Vegas, but it's here."

Human trafficking is modern slavery that sells men, women and children into lives of forced labor and prostitution, said Steve Wagner, the director of Health and Human Services Trafficking in Persons Program.

Las Vegas is the 11th U.S. city where a Rescue and Restore Coalition has been instituted, and the government estimates that between 800,000 and 900,000 victims are trafficked annually across international borders. Between 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked to the U.S. every year, and human trafficking is the second most lucrative criminal activity behind only drugs, Wagner said.

While announcing the coalition Tuesday, Wagner also awarded a $150,000 federal grant to Westcare Nevada, a local agency that operates a street outreach team designed to get children off the streets and away from the child sex industry.

Westcare, a member of the new coalition, will use the grant money to hire two street outreach workers to work with the two team members already employed, said Marlene Richter a Westcare official.

Other local members of the coalition include the Clark County Health District, Nevada Child Seekers and the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. The coalition will work with the federal law enforcement task force on human trafficking established in Las Vegas in September, Wagner said.

The Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000 makes it possible for the victims who were brought into the country for sex or other reasons to become residents and citizens if they cooperate with authorities. The law also provides them the paperwork they need to obtain legal jobs and social services and offers them protection from trafficking rings.

Since 2001 the U.S. attorney's office has brought charges in four human trafficking cases in Las Vegas, but Dan Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada, has said he believes there are more cases out there.

Trafficking in people involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel people to engage in prostitution or sex entertainment, or to work in sweat shops as domestic labor, Wagner said.

Last year Wagner's agency instituted a trafficking hotline that victims can call for help. The number, (888) 373-7888, has resulted in about 2,000 calls, but very few from Las Vegas, Wagner said.

"That's why we're here," Wagner said. "Generally the calls follow the institution of the coalitions."

Tourist locations, cities with multiple entertainment sources, large ethnic populations and large amounts of construction, are among the characteristics that usually attract human trafficking, Wagner said.

"Trafficking is a problem here (in Las Vegas)," Wagner said.