Alleged sex trafficking survivors say Nevada violated Constitution's slavery ban: lawsuit

Announced on Monday, the lawsuit specifically names the state’s attorney general and Gov. Steve Sisolak, along with multiple counties and private entities. 

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which is bringing the suit on behalf of alleged survivors, is asking a district court to declare unconstitutional state and local laws legalizing prostitution. That includes escort services and county ordinances that license legal brothels.

“Nevada’s legal prostitution system has inherently contributed to the sex trafficking of these plaintiffs for both the benefit of sex buyers who flock to Nevada and for the profit of Nevada and its tourism industry,” said Christen Price, senior legal counsel at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.  

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“The plaintiffs were subjected to violence, threats, and other forms of control by sex trade profiteers, which is precisely what the Thirteenth Amendment forbids. Ultimately, these Nevada defendants must be held accountable for enabling this abuse.”

Gov. Sisolak’s office declined to comment. The attorney general’s office did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment. The state had four new federal sex trafficking prosecutions in 2020, according to NCOSE. In 2020, U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich announced that more than $ 65 million in federal Justice Department grants were available to fight human trafficking in the state.

An NCOSE victory could create potential problems for other state laws on prostitution, although the lawsuit presents the situation in Nevada as particularly egregious. 

Part of NCOSE’s argument rests on the idea that legalized prostitution tends to correlate with an increase in sex trafficking. Studies from the London School of Economics (2013) and Harvard University (2014) also found that countries with legal prostitution tended to see higher levels of human trafficking. NCOSE’s suit alleges that Nevada brothels knowingly employed trafficking victims and engaged in coercive activities such as preventing prostitutes from leaving the premises. 

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Plaintiffs “Jane Doe” and Angela Williams are also utilizing federal anti-trafficking laws in an attempt to sue on behalf of individuals currently being trafficked. State and county authorities, they argue, benefited from the jurisdictions’ “reputations as legal havens for sex.”

NCOSE’s lawsuit comes amid a broader push to deregulate or decriminalize prostitution within the United States. Last week, California lawmakers approved a bill that would decriminalize loitering for the purposes of prostitution. Texas, meanwhile, recently passed legislation making solicitation of prostitution a felony.

Nevada, however, is the only state where prostitution is legal. Prostitution is technically illegal in Las Vegas, although NCOSE alleges “this is more pretense than reality” as the city allows “legalized escorts and escort bureaus.” The University of Nevada in Las Vegas previously reported that the state was tied for ninth in sex trafficking in the U.S. with 199 cases in 2017.

Rhode Island also decriminalized prostitution between 1980 and 2009, providing a case study for researchers seeking to determine the effects of decriminalization. NCOSE pointed to a Wake Forest Law Review article arguing that decriminalization prompted an increase in prostitution and hindered law enforcement.

Decriminalization advocates generally argue that it empowers women to make a living in a way they see fit. The Open Society Foundations, led by billionaire George Soros, argues that decriminalization promotes safe working conditions, reduces the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases, and helps prevent abuses.

“When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers can press for safer working conditions and use the justice system to seek redress for discrimination and abuse,” the group says. “Sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, or fear of violence.” 

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