LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Child sex trafficking is a brutal crime that targets youth just like any child you may know and love.
Those devoted to combating the crime say that breaking the cycle requires community help and parental involvement. Advocates say we can protect children from sex trafficking, but we have to be cognizant of how pimps are getting to kids. They may be targeted at places thought to be safe such as schools and homes.
John Walsh, former host of America’s Most Wanted, has dedicated his life to catching the world’s most cruel criminals. He’s seen countless child sex crimes and said he is disgusted by pimps preying on our youth.
“To me a pimp is an exploitative, disgusting, bottom-feeding maggot,” Walsh said.
Walsh said pimps know exactly what to do to pull a child into sex trafficking.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is focused on catching such predators.
“I like to refer to a pimp as of bit of a sociopath, [like] a serial killer or a serial rapist. They’re the only two other individuals I can think of that are worse than a pimp,” Metro’s Sgt. Donald Hoier said.
Kids are getting picked up by predators in the very places parents thought they were the most safe, like school, and the pimps may look just like them.
Esther Rodriguez-Brown, founder of The Embracing Project, is a youth advocate who helps children get out of sex trafficking and stay out.
“Our kids, all of them go to school. So they talk to each other. They know each other. This is happening more than people think,” Rodriguez-Brown said.
Rodriquez-Brown said it’s as easy as a fellow student, boy or girl, befriending your child and gradually grooming or forming a bond with him or her. That so-called friend could be hired by a pimp to recruit and eventually get in touch with your child and then sell them for sex.
The child often creates a deep attachment to his or her pimp.
“[The] majority of the time it is a trauma bond that is created because they love their perpetrators. They love their traffickers and their pimps. And they do it because of love,” Rodriguez-Brown said. “They break your spirit. These girls are being forced to have sex every day with an average of 10 to 15 men sometimes, and the money that they are making is of course not going back to them; it’s going back to the exploiters.”
The victims are mostly young girls. Rodriguez-Brown said the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12 years old. She further said the children often become convinced they chose this life.
“Somehow they believe that they chose to do that but that’s not the case because somebody preys into your vulnerability,” Rodriguez-Brown said.
John Walsh warns parents every child is at risk.
“Don’t assume that it couldn’t happen to you. Just because you live in a nice suburb or just because you have an intact family [doesn’t mean] that it can’t happen to you, that your daughter can’t go off the rails, can’t be solicited by a pimp,” Walsh said.
Law enforcement knows Las Vegas attracts sex traffickers. Frequent conventions and major events bring people to a place where they think they’re free to party and do as they want.
“This is the major leagues. Everyone who is working in organized prostitution wants to come here and take chances because this is where they could potentially make the most money,” Hoier said.
Catherine Cortez Masto, former Nevada attorney general, dedicated herself to fighting sex trafficking in Nevada.
“The numbers that we’ve seen in our state, when these kids come through, 60 percent of them are our own. They’re homegrown,” Cortez Masto said.
Cortez Masto said she’s decided it’s time to do more to hold perpetrators accountable.
“The problem we had is there was this revolving door through the justice system. They were able to manipulate the system and get out very quickly on probation, circle back to the victim and scare the victim and prevent them from testifying,” Cortez Masto said.
In 2013, the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 67. It established the crime of sex trafficking of children and adults, allowing victims to receive assistance. It also gives them the right to sue their traffickers. Cortez Masto heard many cases and said the public has to open their minds to the young people targeted to participate.
“When we’re talking pimps, I’m not talking about a 35-year-old man, a 45-year-old man. Some of our pimps are 18-year-olds, 17-year-olds. So they’re in the school system,” Cortez Masto said.
Police follow the disturbing cases and say there’s no specific place they’re happening, but it could be right in your own home.
“If their kid is at home upstairs, they feel like they’re safe if they’re on the computer surfing the internet. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Hoier said.
The internet provides pimps with endless access to impressionable young minds. Advocates point out parents are inviting pimps into their homes and don’t even know it.
“Putting a computer in your child’s room is like putting a stranger in your child’s room. Would you let your 12-year-old have a 30-year-old man in her room by herself?” Rodriguez-Brown asked.
People on the front lines of fighting child sex trafficking are calling on parents and all adults to join the fight.
“Parent up and be that parent. If your child has a Facebook page, make sure that child friends you, make sure you know what they’re doing. Most kids get on the internet on their smart phones or on a game box. It isn’t that old adage: Look at what your kids are doing on the computer. That doesn’t work anymore. They’re way more sophisticated than adults are,” Walsh said.
“My advice is always the same. Be involved in the life of your child, because if you are not involved, somebody else will be,” Rodriguez-Brown said.
People working to help children get out of sex trafficking said that in 2014, 201 young girls and one young boy went through Clark County juvenile court because of sexual exploitation, but those are only the ones we know of now. There are likely many more hidden away in world of child sex trafficking.
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