(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – State Assemblyman John Hambrick has requested four bills for the 2011 session to continue with his mission of eliminating child prostitution in Nevada.
Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, won unanimous support for a bill in 2009 providing for civil penalties of up to $500,000 against those convicted of human trafficking of minor children. Funds collected under the provisions of Assembly Bill 380 can be used to provide care to those minors exploited for sexual purposes.
Hambrick now wants to extend that effort next session by increasing sentences for those involved in such crimes, including those who purchase the sexual services of an underage child, and allowing victims to clear their criminal records under certain conditions so they can go on to productive lives.
“Human trafficking is one of those things our parents would not have discussed in ‘polite’ society,” Hambrick said. “But the time has come to open the windows. We – all of us – must wake up and realize that Las Vegas is the national capital for human trafficking. Men come to our community and ‘buy’ the bodies of girls, some as young as 11 years old. This battle has to be fought and won.”
Las Vegas was identified in 2009 by the FBI as one of 14 cities around the country with high rates of child prostitution. Additionally, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department handled 150 cases of child prostitution in 2008 alone.
Hambrick said he was made aware of the situation after retiring to Las Vegas and getting involved in politics. Hambrick said he was skeptical at first, but soon learned the truth of how severe the problem is in Southern Nevada.
“Las Vegas is leading the country in this horrendous crime,” he said.
Hambrick said he has yet to see results from AB380, which took effect Oct. 1, 2009, because the last major prosecution for this crime was handled by federal officials.
Hambrick said Judge William Voy, a juvenile court judge in Clark County, wants to establish safe houses for the victims of these crimes. The new law could have generated some funding for the project if the federal prosecution had been handled at the state level instead, he said.
The civil penalties may seem large, but those engaged in his human trafficking make vast amounts of money, he said.
In testimony in support of AB380 in 2009, Las Vegas Police Sgt. Victor Vigna said that in a recent case his unit handled, a panderer had $400,000 in cash in his house.
Going after the money is the only way to bring a halt to child prostitution, Hambrick said.
Hambrick saw strong support for his 2009 measure.
Lois Lee, founder and president of Children of the Night, a Los Angeles organization dedicated to helping child prostitution victims, testified in support: “A.B. 380 is an obvious step in the right direction to begin to address the plight of young people – women and girls – who are victimized by prostitution and have nowhere to turn for help.”
Lee said Hambrick’s new proposals have merit as well. The concern is whether they will be applied equally to all offenders by law enforcement. Such laws have frequently been used nationally to target specific groups including women, minorities and homosexuals, she said.
“I think the intent of his legislation is excellent,” Lee said. “My concern is will it be enforced in the spirit that the Assemblyman wrote it.”
Hambrick’s new measures would:
– Clarify that the crime of involuntary servitude can also include subjecting another person to commercial sex acts (similar to human trafficking under federal law).
– Increase criminal and civil penalties for pimps and buyers. It would allow for jail time for someone convicted of either crime to increase to seven years minimum and 20 years maximum. It would also increase fines to as high as $50,000.
– Allow for staggered penalties for buyers. The younger the victim, the more time a buyer would be required to serve. It would allow for the possibility of a life sentence with parole eligibility after 10 years in prison.- Allow a victim to start with a clean slate by petitioning a court to vacate convictions if certain conditions are met.