Monday, June 22, 2009 | 3:57 p.m.
Assembly Bill (.pdf)
Her mother and grandmother were prostitutes. From a young age, Dettrea had little doubt about the path her life would follow.
She started selling herself for sex at age 12. A year later she worked for a pimp. Before she would finally break free, Dettrea was arrested four times and became a heroin junkie.
Now 18 and drug-free, Dettrea, who declined to give her last name, works with law enforcement agencies and Hookers for Jesus, a faith-based organization that addresses human trafficking and exploitation. She wants to help other girls like her leave the abusive and illegal world of child prostitution.
“No 12-year-old girl wakes up and says ‘I want to be a prostitute today,’” she said. “There is a way out.”
And now there is a new state law that levies the harshest punishments in the country against those who pander or prostitute children.
Today in Las Vegas, Gov. Jim Gibbons re-signed Assembly Bill 380, which allows for fines of $500,000 for those convicted of trafficking prostitutes younger than 14 and $100,000 for trafficking prostitutes ages 14 to 17.
Both houses of the Legislature unanimously approved the bill, which Gibbons initially signed May 22.
The law, which becomes effective Oct. 1, also allows Nevada district attorneys to seize the property and assets of those convicted and use those funds for the care and treatment of rescued children.
“A word of caution to those who exploit children: We’re after you. This will make you pay,” Gibbons said during today’s ceremony at the Grant Sawyer Federal Building.
Last October, the FBI made 642 arrests and rescued 47 children in a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution. Of those, 49 were arrested in the Las Vegas Valley, according to FBI statistics. Records show Metro Police handled 150 child prostitution cases in 2008.
In Clark County, seized funds could be used to establish a residential safe house to get teens out of the life of sex for money, said William Voy, a family court judge. At the safe house, teens would receive counseling in an attempt to break the bond with their abusers and join in the prosecution of their pimps.
Although the children are considered victims and the pimps are the real targets, the young prostitutes are often arrested and jailed because that’s the only way to keep them away from the pimps long enough to begin to break the cycle, Voy said.
“The hardest thing to do is to get a victim to testify,” said Voy, who leads a special court formed in 2005 to address the issue. “They’ll say anything to get out of the detention center. Our biggest hurdle is to keep them in one place long enough just to get them to a preliminary hearing.”
Voy has worked on creating a safe house for child prostitutes for two years. He said the last hurdle is finding a steady stream of revenue to support eight probation officers.
This bill won’t be able to provide officers’ salaries because the seized assets would be inconsistent, Voy said. Instead, the county or state would need to dedicate fees from a reliable revenue source to pay for the officers.
The safe house is just the start of services the victims of child prostitution need, said Stephanie Parker, executive director of Nevada Child Seekers. The new law is a positive first step, she said.
“I don’t know that you can put a price on the life of a child but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
Freshman Assemblyman John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas) sponsored AB380. Child prostitution has been a topic that no one likes to talk about, he said.
But Hambrick said he found support for the bill across party lines at every level of government and from many community organizations.
“I think people realized it was going on, but that’s the underbelly of the city that no one really likes to talk about,” he said. “One way to address a problem is open the window, pull back the shades and let some light in. Hopefully the bill will help that.”
Hambrick, who is chairman of the Nevada Juvenile Justice Commission, said he will introduce legislation before the next session that targets the clients of child prostitution and trafficking networks.
“Nevada is starting down a road we’ll never back away from,” he said. “This issue is not going away. We have to address it squarely and definitively.”