Child trafficking, or kids who leave home, and their pimps and their friends, in Las Vegas

I accepted an invitation to talk about the much-publicised US child-trafficking sweep last week that resulted in lots of arrests of adults and rescues of a small number of people under 18. I wrote about this FBI-led event the other day, and I was initially reluctant to speak on a public-radio show from Las Vegas, Nevada, that seemed to be composed exclusively of crime- and rescue-oriented people. But the producer asked me for suggestions for other speakers, and I was able to get a couple of names to her fast enough, with the result that the panel became reasonably balanced.

Child Prostitution in Nevada, an audio link to the hour-long programme, illustrates four points of view: a court defender of young people caught selling sex, a psychologist who tries to help them feel better, a harm-reduction project for teenagers in New York (Safe Horizons) and me on childhood, migration and sex.

I find the format of such programmes repressive, the taking turns and inability to converse normally with other participants. The public defender seemed to say the word pimp a dozen times, expressing frustration that the girls refuse to denounce any. How can I help them if they won’t give up their exploiters? she wails. How do you know they actually have pimps? I wanted to ask. There could be some classic pimp figures involved, but it is very possible that she is generalising lots of boyfriends, girlfriends, family members and other folk who live with or share the girls’ earnings as pimps whom the girls themselves do not see that way. I doubt that many of them look like the picture above.

A local paper’s news story about the raids illustrates clearly the police focus. Most of those picked up were adults, and they can’t all be traffickers, which makes it obvious that consenting adults carrying out sex-money exchanges are those suffering most from such operations. The article’s title even admits the operation was a sting, and the gallery of arrested faces, one crying, is enough to make one sick: National prostitution sting nets 20 locally.

There are other ways to think about young people who don’t want to stay home, or who can’t, than trafficking, prostitution and pimps: the children tag on this blog provides a few.

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

5 thoughts on “Child trafficking, or kids who leave home, and their pimps and their friends, in Las Vegas

  1. Dave

    There are other ways to think about young people who don’t want to stay home, or who can’t, than trafficking, prostitution and pimps

    You can’t read about this topic for long without noticing the propensity of the media, law enforcement, and rescue organizations to label everyone that engages in commercial sex as if they are all the same regardless of circumstances, motives, degree of involvement, and mode of operation. First and foremost, they are all being exploited because someone somewhere is making money from their activity (even if it’s merely renting them a room or giving them a ride to a location). Secondly, they are all being coerced because no women would “sell herself” (an intentionally deceptive term) voluntarily. They almost always start as children (a unsubstantiated claim useful only to play on people’s natural compassion for children). And finally, they can’t escape without outside help (ie: rescue).

    The rhetoric you see in the mainstream press usually doesn’t even acknowledge that someone could engage in sex for money on a casual level to help pay for college or just because the money is better than their old clerical job. This narrow picture is so pervasive that it doesn’t surprise me when someone like the public defender is blind to other alternatives. Hell, the rescue industry teaches that even if the women themselves claim otherwise, it’s because they are in denial. If Ms Public Defender is frustrated, maybe she should consider how frustrated her clients are when she refuses to accept anything they say at face value. It reminds me of the movie, Gothika, where saying anything that doesn’t jibe with the preconceived notions of the authorities is considered evidence of insanity.

    To complicate matters further, a girl who has a public defender is, by definition, in trouble. She is immediately under pressure to push the blame elsewhere in an attempt to garner sympathy and more lenient treatment. There has to be immense incentive to claim victimhood. If she doesn’t have a pimp to offer up, she’s at a disadvantage. I wonder how many defendants make one up.

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  2. Michelle

    Thank you for writing about this. You’re insight, and ability to verbalize it, is couragous in light of the current trafficking wave. I’ve been slammed so many times for questioning this on a public forum but I won’t be dissuaded. That whole group-think is BS where no none seems capable of an original thought. True trafficking and enslavement of women and children is horrible, but why is it that taking consenting adults against their will in trafficking sweeps isn’t equally horrible? Why are people so afraid of sex?

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  3. Maxine Doogan

    The reporting on anything related to our issue in mainstream is poor.
    We need to invest in creating together a group like the The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to address the poor structure and bad reporting for the long haul.

    Its’ called media defamation.
    http://www.glaad.org/reportdefamation

    GLAAD communicates with many editors, reporters and producers about media coverage both problematic and commendable….

    Reply
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