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August 19, 2019

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Las Vegas is ‘ground zero’ for child sex trafficking, Metro vice officer says

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Beyond the Sun

The number of Nevada children dragged into prostitution is on the rise — a scary reality that will take a community effort to reverse, a Metro Police lieutenant told an interfaith group Wednesday.

The Las Vegas Valley Interfaith Sponsoring Committee hosted a discussion at the Islamic Society of Nevada about child sex trafficking.

Karen Hughes, a lieutenant in Metro Police’s vice section, asked the attendees, who represented diverse religious backgrounds, to spread the word about the existence of child sex trafficking in the valley.

“I consider Las Vegas ground zero,” Hughes said. “The landscape of Las Vegas brings those who traffic young women and boys into this hideous life to Las Vegas because there’s spending that occurs here … very discretional income.”

Last year, the department rescued 131 children in Las Vegas who had been forced into prostitution, Hughes said. Nearly three-quarters, or 74 percent, of those children were from Nevada, which Hughes said was an increase compared with previous years.

“These pimps and traffickers are recruiting out of our schools, out of our churches, out of our homes,” she said. “They’re everywhere.”

The cycle results in scores of children subjected to beatings, torture, gang rapes and sexual assaults, Hughes said. The youngest victim discovered by Metro last year was 13 years old.

One particularly brutal case involved a 15-year-old girl who suffered second- and third-degree burns across her back and arms after attempting to flee a pimp.

“These are our kids,” she said. “These are lives that are of value and need salvation.”

To that end, Hughes called on the faith community to help find safe housing for victims and to support proposed legislation that stiffens penalties for pimps.

Michon Martin, chief deputy attorney general for Nevada, said criminals have realized they often face harsher sentences for trafficking drugs than trafficking humans.

“If a pimp is turning out one of our babies, one of our children, that is the same as him raping that baby,” Martin said. “The penalty needs to be the same.”

A proposed bill addressing that issue and others related to sex trafficking will be introduced during the upcoming legislative session, Martin said.

Preventing child sex-trafficking is the interfaith group’s latest focus, said the Rev. Dennis Hutson of Advent United Methodist Church, who is on the group’s board of directors. The interfaith group meets monthly to discuss various issues plaguing the community.

“We are very concerned about child sex trafficking in particular,” he said. “As people of faith, we are mandated by our holy texts to be concerned about children.”

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