The sale of sex in Las Vegas is no secret. Brothels are legal in rural counties.
And vice units in Nevada have been arresting prostitutes for decades in casinos and on the streets. Some of the people in the sex industry in Nevada are not there of their own free will. They are victims of sex trafficking,
Now a new group has been formed that authorities hope will do more to stop the traffickers and help the victims.
The Southern Nevada Sex Trafficking Multidisciplinary Team is composed of several police agencies, advocacy groups, and prosecutors that want to assist victims of sex trafficking while fighting sex traffickers.
James Sweetin is the chief deputy district attorney at the Clark County District Attorney's office.
He said the idea for the team was hatched after someone told him about seeing a police car drive past a young girl, perhaps 12 or 13 years old, walking the streets of Las Vegas at 1 a.m. dressed as one might imagine a prostitute would dress.
Sweetin couldn't understand why a police officer would drive by a young girl who so clearly looked like she was the victim of human trafficking.
“[I] went up the line in trying to find out why patrol would do something like that and found out that there really weren’t any resources for police to do anything,” he said.
Police couldn't call Child Protective Services because they hadn't seen her parents be neglectful. They couldn't arrest her, and in times past, when they had taken someone that fit that description into protective custody and took them to a facility, the person who picked them up was not desirable.
“The police officers would see almost as soon as they took them there that an individual they believe to be pimp would just come and pick them up and drive them away,” he said.
Lt. Kristine Buist with the Las Vegas Metro Police has been working on sex trafficking in Southern Nevada for about a year.
She said when a minor is picked up for prostitution her team does what it can to identify what their needs might be, for instance, a safe home; however, there are gaps in those resources.
“There tends to almost always be some sort of gaps in resources because all victims have different needs. They are individuals,” she said, “Working with a multi-disciplinary team, you are able to not only cover the prosecution part of it but bring it full circle and try and identify the needs of this victim and find somebody within the team that would have the resources to meet those needs so we don’t have service gaps.”
The team started just a few weeks ago and some of the first committees are supposed to be up and running in May.
Sweetin said the plan is to assign advocates to the victims as soon as police officers are involved in the case. Those advocates begin to find resources for the victims immediately but they also help them after the case has gone through the Justice System.
“We have always made every effort to make sure that the victim is protected and understands what’s going on during the investigation and prosecution but now through this program that is going to extend after the case is over,” he said.
Buist said in the past the toughest challenge to getting people trapped in a life of sex trafficking to leave is having access to the resources they need to support themselves and their families - if they leave.
She believes the team will be a great way to address that problem and get people into a "life that is healthier and safer."
Lt. Kristine Buist, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Chief Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin, Clark County District Attorney’s Office.
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