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Nevada Among Worst States for Human Trafficking

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Nevada ranks in the top 10 for the number of calls to the national human trafficking hotline. (saiyood/iStockphoto)
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Nevada ranks in the top 10 for the number of calls to the national human trafficking hotline. (saiyood/iStockphoto)
January 4, 2016

LAS VEGAS - January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and the problem is particularly severe in Nevada. Statistics show the Silver State is one of the the 10 worst for human trafficking, with hundreds of calls to the national hotline each year.

Experts blame it on the state's multi-billion-dollar sex trade, which in some cases draws children into prostitution.

Alexis Kennedy, an associate professor in UNLV's Department of Criminal Justice, says Nevada needs to help victims get counseling and transitional housing, then connect them with adult mentors even after they age out of the system.

"You can't live in the traumatic circumstance of being a trafficking victim and then, the second you turn 18, you're a healthy, functioning adult," says Kennedy. So, to then say, 'All right, you're 18 go get a straight job, stay out of trouble, don't do anything illegal;' they don't have the skills they need, they don't have the emotional support that they need."

This week, UNLV starts a three-year, $600,000 research project in which Kennedy interviews trafficking victims ages 18 to 24. The goal is to find out where the system could have done a better job helping them escape their exploitation.

She adds that police, schools, families and child protective services are working together to find at-risk kids before their lives take a dangerous turn.

"Girls we arrest, the 150-200 a year here in Las Vegas, about 80 percent of them are local," says Kennedy. "So if you have a fight with mom and dad and run away, you end up on the Strip. So, we have to do that prevention/inoculation/identification better."

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline has received more than 96,000 calls and identified more than 40,000 victims since its inception nine years ago. The number is 1-888-373-7888, or on a cell phone, text "HELP" to "BeFree."

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV