Ignoring Prostitution: Human Trafficking and Nevada 


Note: this appeared in the May 13 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Scroll down to view the e-mails I received and also some comments posted on the Review-Journal's web site.


“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”  It is one of the most successful ad campaigns in the history of this city.  Anyone can probably figure out what this means in reality.  However, on rare occasions it does not work that way.  Consider a recent story appearing on Channel 8 news, but also in at least two California papers (Monterey County Herald and San Jose Mercury News).

The news item was about a sting called “Operation Doll House” that targeted “residential brothels” which resulted in the arrest of the sheriff and undersheriff from San Mateo County in Northern California. These two were staying at Mandalay Bay and apparently the Sheriff wanted some “Vegas action” (which almost always means using the services of women).  He asked a cab driver to take them to where he could get a “massage” (and we all know what that usually means!). The driver took them to a very upscale neighborhood in the southern part of Clark County.  By his own admission the sheriff thought this was perfectly legal, stating that "I believed I was going to a legitimate business. It was not.” Yeah, right!

During this raid two minors were also arrested. This brings me to the purpose of this commentary: the trafficking in young girls for purposes of prostitution.  This is a worldwide billion dollar industry involving tens of thousands of victims annually, many of whom are children.  Which is not surprising since in a capitalist economy anything and everything is a “commodity” for sale – including our own children. The FBI estimates that more than 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. The average age is about 11.


It has an impact right here in Las Vegas where literally tens of thousands of young girls come into the city to conduct their business.  The vast majority are not from Las Vegas.  How do they get here?  Some are sent airline tickets paid for by pimps; some are driven up by pimps from other cities like LA and Phoenix. Metro police arrest between 10 and 20 girls each month; there are probably ten times that number who are not caught.


My sources tell me that you can see the girls on the Strip plying their trade as their pimps stand on the overpasses (e.g., between Bellagio and Bally’s, New York, New York and MGM, etc.) yelling at them, apparently giving orders. You can see them sitting at the Valet area of strip hotels (they pay the valets to let them sit there so that they appear to be waiting for their parents or otherwise engaging in some other legitimate activity). You also see them walking the floors in slippers with only a cell phone and a few business cards (giving potential clients their number to call if they are interested in “partying”) attached to the phone. One of the reasons they wear slippers is so that they appear to be staying at the hotel and are merely walking about like other hotel guests. All of this activity is done with the apparent knowledge of hotel executives, because, I have been told, these girls help promote business.


Nevada is the “black eye” of the US when it comes to human trafficking because in some areas prostitution is legal (and everywhere else perfectly ok) because it undermines federal efforts to address this serious problem. (The feds are trying to stop trafficking via the Trafficking Victim Protection Act.) I have been told that federal officials, in their attempts at prevention Nevada, laugh at us since we sort of “wink” at the problem (after all, it contributes so much to the local economy).


As you drive into Las Vegas along I-15 from California you can’t help but notice signs advertising various “escort” services and the way these signs are worded it would be obvious to a 10-year-old what is really going on – yet technically prostitution is illegal in Clark County. 


The trafficking of children is more than just an international problem – it is our problem.


E-Mails I received commenting on what I said.  These two are reproduced ver batim:



"Mr. Shelden. I am a taxi driver and I can tell you are full of it. I seriously doubt that you have any facts and I believe you go on assumptions or what some one else thought or imagined they saw. Even though under aged crimes happen, I don't think it is prevalent in Nevada. I suggest you watch the O'Reilly factor so you can learn the difference between facts (good) and B. S. (bad. You are welcome to write to me. You appear to be a scandalist liberal. I suggest you move to Vermont were you will feel comfortable surrounded by crazy people like yourself."




"Did you write your article about the human sex trade before or after Metro came out and said the girls were not being traded, were doing it because they wanted to, and liked the money?   As for minors, were these girls eligible to go to adult jail for their crimes? If so, they are not minors.  If they can get an abortion without notifying their parents, they are minors in name only.   I do not know how it is a black eye for Nevada, the state does not promote human sex traffic, and if you interview the girls, you would see that 90%+ came deom brothels in Little Korea in LA.  So LA has the black eye." 


From the "comment" section of the Review-Journal's web site:


"No disrespect to Mr. Shelden, but Las Vegas has always been Las Vegas, right or wrong,..But you gotta understand thats part of what put Las Vegas on the map is things such as this....So,..It is a good read on your behalf,now maybe you should offer a solution that will be beneficial to all and possibly leave the "every day" of Las Vegas Intact."


Great idea by Randall G. Shelden, a professor in the Criminal Justice Department at UNLV. Outlaw prostitution in the entire state of Nevada. Better yet, let's make a law outlawing the distribution, trafficking, and possession with intent to sale of narcotics....oh, that's right, there are already such laws on the books. I wonder why we still have a drug problem in the U.S.?"


"How about some laws making unauthorized entry into the U.S. a crime? Oh silly me! We already have such laws! I wonder how those day laborers on our streets, who can't speak English, got into this country?

I love articles like this because only a college professor could come up a solution like make laws that outlaw the problem.

The solution is not more laws that outlaw a commodity in demand, but to get our federal government to get serious and enforce our border security, port security and our current immigration laws.

We can't stop human trafficking in other countries, but we can stem it at our borders -- that is how most sex slaves are brought in.

It all comes down to our open borders, once again."



"I never knew this was such a huge problem (jaws drop). You have way too much time on your hands!"