Solutions promoted at sex trafficking summit in Carson City

Jill Tolles, executive director of Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, welcomes participants to Wednesday’s Nevada Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Law and Policy Summit at the Brewery Arts Center with panelists State Sen. Pat Spearman, Assemblywoman Angie Taylor and Sen. Melanie Schieble (on videoconference from Las Vegas).

Jill Tolles, executive director of Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, welcomes participants to Wednesday’s Nevada Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Law and Policy Summit at the Brewery Arts Center with panelists State Sen. Pat Spearman, Assemblywoman Angie Taylor and Sen. Melanie Schieble (on videoconference from Las Vegas).
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

State Sen. Pat Spearman, serving as a captain in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps in Panama in the 1980s, still feels the shower curtain she hid behind in her hotel bathtub after escaping from her colonel’s office in dread.

Her superior had threatened to coerce her into sexual acts, and she had no private place to flee to when he came after her seeking pleasure.

“I’m praying fiercely, ‘Oh, God, please don’t let this happen to me,’” Spearman said.

There were no single-officer quarters. Soldiers were staying in the Marriott, and he waited at her door for more than two hours. Spearman asked the hotel’s housekeepers “Cierra la puerta” — “Close the door” — to remain hidden and they let her out eventually through a service elevator. She drove out of the hotel’s parking lot to a friend’s house, where it was suggested she report it, but she never did.

Female subordinates in the military long have been raped repeatedly and suffered the trauma of their experiences, Spearman said, and it’s only been recently that the U.S. Department of Defense has acknowledged the problem. Reporting her own incident would have ended her military career, but she served 29 years from 1977 to 2007 and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

“I don’t minimize the trauma of civilians,” she said. “I want to elevate the status of those in the military who that happened to and they’ve never been able to talk about it, and unlike me they were not able to retire. That’s what drives me.”

The Charleston Law Center’s Nevada Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Law and Policy Summit for lawmakers, law enforcement and advocates Wednesday in Carson City’s Brewery Arts Center was an in-depth conversation about opportunities and difficulties arising from the state’s battle against an “ecosystem” of sexual exploitation. The event was hosted in partnership with the Northern Nevada Sex Trafficking Task Force, the Nevada Policy Council on Human Trafficking and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center. The day unfolded in a series of panels with participants sharing what motivated them to bring legal solutions or new policies to the table.

Jason Guinasso, co-founder, executive vice president and director of legal services at Charleston Law Center, said abolishing legal prostitution in Nevada would help eliminate sex trafficking.

With 90.8% of trafficking survivors having been arrested, according to the National Survivor Network Members Survey, most experience some form of trauma with the criminal justice system, Guinasso said, and most criminal defense attorneys are not prepared to assist these victims on their own.

Ultimately, the experts on Wednesday hoped more training and creating systemic strategies and awareness for everyone would help overcome buyers create and restore faith in the system for survivors.

Nationally, more than 31,600 total cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the past eight years. According to World Without Exploitation, a survivor-led coalition seeking to end trafficking, as of 2018, 3,218 individual survivors called the hotline.

In 2016, the NHTH showed 136 sex trafficking cases were reported in Nevada.

Changing policy and perspectives and finding deterrents for buyers to hold them accountable can help mitigate the problem, according to Nicole Reilly, ombudsman of Serving Survivors of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking and staff member of the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.

“No one thinks the buyers are the problem,” she said. “But they are selfish, self-centered individuals. (Buying) gives them more thrill. But if it’s going to impact their personal lives, that’s what’s going to deter them. That’s what’s going to eliminate a huge portion of the buyers.”

Capt. Noel Roberts of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department described officers’ past mentality of making instantaneous arrests for traffickers but as departments come to incorporate advocates as resources in different scenarios, Roberts said using handcuffs isn’t always the best approach.

“Once we come across someone, we bring them to a location and the handcuffs come off,” he said. “To tell a cop to change their habits is like taking their lunch money. The advocates are leading this. (The victims) do need help. We want to get help for them. It’s one of the biggest things we’ve done. But we’re not good at the other part. We use our advocates and survivors, and it’s made a huge difference.”

Kimberly Mull, a sex trafficking survivor in Las Vegas, couldn’t stand by and watch as another woman, half-dressed and in poor shape, was lured into a car by a man. When she called the LVMPD’s dispatch reporting the victim was being raped, she was displeased when asked why she would want to do anything about it. Mull tried explaining she had been a victim herself.

“There is a unique mentality in Nevada related to prostitution and related to sex trafficking that only exists in Nevada, and it seeps into law enforcement and it’s not the ‘department’s fault,’” Mull told the crowd listening to her story.

Mull, who since has begun her own firm Kimberly Mull Advocacy and Consulting as a speaker and policy expert after being trafficked from the ages of 11 to 14, said more training is necessary. She said Nevadans need to understand the deep legal and emotional barriers a survivor faces.

“It’s just the environment in which we are in,” she said. “And so that training has to be that much more in depth and that much more robust, if you will, because we have to counteract that with what we’re doing.”

Guinasso, presenting the results of the Legal Deserts Report published by the Avery Center and National Survivor Law Collective, said Nevada is one of the states lacking organizations that provide direct legal services and focus on human trafficking, not because the Silver State’s attorneys aren’t paying attention closely to the issue but because it’s difficult to serve exclusively.

Bekah Charleston, CEO and co-founder of Charleston Law Center and founder of Exploitation 2 Empowerment, said it’s important to have the collaboration of services and advocates because “no one area is going to solve the issue.”

“If we’re only caring for people when they get out, then we’re not going upstream and we’re not preventing them from getting in,” Charleston said.

She said one of the major issues still needing improvement is children continue to be criminalized for prostitution, and she hoped some of legislation being proposed this session would make changes in this policy.

Nevada’s legislators had a chance to share some of the bill draft requests they are sponsoring in the 2023 session that begins Monday. BDRs include:

Senate Bill 89: Sens. Heidi Seevers Gansert and Nicole Cannizzaro are supporting harsher penalties for sex traffickers for luring juveniles online if caught by law enforcement officers posing as minors and making them face Class A felonies, automatic life sentences.

BDR 15-281, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Stone, would increase penalties for sex trafficking for an adult from three to 10 years to 10 to 15 years and for a minor from a minimum of 15 years to 25 years to life and penalties for facilitating sex trafficking for an adult from one to six years to five to 10 years and for a minor from three to 10 years to 10 to 15 years.

BDR 641, sponsored by freshman Assemblywoman Angie Taylor, a Democrat, revises provisions governing sex trafficking, specifically NRS 201.320. Taylor said there currently is no distinction for living off of the earnings of an adult versus a minor, and this bill would create a penalty for living off the earnings of a minor as a category B felony.

BDR 321, revising provisions relating to the protection of children from sexual exploitation, would expand competency and restoration services for children to be found incompetent pursuant to NRS 62D and require the use of trauma-informed CSEC screening measure to assess children at risk of sex trafficking.

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