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January 28, 2015

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Part II: A journey:

One woman’s escape from human trafficking


Leila Navidi

Lauren, 18, with her five-month-old son at their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

Lauren - Former Prostitute Part II

Lauren, 18, with her five-month-old son at their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Launch slideshow »
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

In April 2011, Lauren was 17 and again in lockup. She had been charmed by a man she thought was her boyfriend but who turned out to be a violent pimp. He was the father of their unborn child.

“He had me so far gone,” she reflected.

She had been lying for months to her mom, sister and court supervisors, who all suspected the origins of her problems.

“I wanted to tell the truth, but I didn’t want to hurt him,” she said. “I knew if I told the truth, we would be finished.”

This time, after repeated arrests and abuse, something inside her told her this was it. She was finished.

“I told them the truth,” she said.

Her boyfriend, who essentially enslaved her, was convicted of “pandering,” which is the legal term for pimping.

Lauren’s story offers a window into the horrifying world of human trafficking. The Las Vegas Valley has one of the worst human trafficking problems in the nation, with three times the number of juvenile arrests as New York City, despite the fact that we have only one-fourth the population. The wink and nod attitude toward prostitution here gives the wrong impression to tourists and conventioneers that it’s legal, which in turn creates a significant market for traffickers.

Shared Hope International, a group dedicated to eradicating human trafficking and that grades states on the efficacy of their trafficking laws, gives us an “F.” The Polaris Project, which has the same mission, gives us a slightly better grade.

This being Nevada, there aren’t enough resources to help children escape.

A small community of activists, police officers, social workers and others are fighting the good fight, however, and without them, Lauren might still be enslaved.

Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., a national nonprofit group that seeks to keep children out of jail, worked closely with Lauren to help her free herself.

Her youth advocate at the time, Shawnette Roque, spent 7 1/2 hours with Lauren every week. Lauren also attended group sessions and saw a therapist.

The question we all have is why a young woman, who is obviously bright and responsible, would fall victim to this predator.

Alexis Kennedy, a UNLV criminologist and expert in human trafficking, likens it to domestic violence, though to make matters worse, Lauren was so young she wasn’t able to confront her accuser.

“They get swept off their feet, and they don’t have the emotional tools to deal with it. She believed she was in a relationship. That is how they get them,” Kennedy said.

As Lauren said, “I felt like I did something wrong to him because I told the truth, like I should be apologizing to him.”

She slowly began to see the reality, however: that he was treating her, as she put, like “a human ATM machine.”

“Even with the struggle, she became grounded and knew what she wanted to do,” Roque said. “When she set her mind on something, good or bad, she could do it. Once we got her to focus on the good, things started to go well.”

Roque said the unplanned pregnancy seemed to snap Lauren to attention.

“She’s a big time reader. So I’d take her to the library, and she’s reading pregnancy books and telling me things I’d never heard of,” Roque said.

Her son was born last fall. He looks more and more like his father all the time, Lauren said.

Lauren passed her GED and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, winning a scholarship from Youth Advocate Programs. She lives with her mom, who is working on starting a nonprofit to help families who are surviving the ordeal of human trafficking.

Lauren’s first goal is to earn an associates degree and become a paralegal, but someday she might like to be a lawyer, maybe prosecuting human traffickers.

I asked her how she summoned the courage to talk to me.

“I don’t feel any fear,” she said.

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  1. The story of one person's escape from the pit of despair, the lowest they can possibly go in life, other than "six foot under," is a testamony to the will and power of the human spirit.

    Lauren's story brings light to the dark world which co-exists with our world. Thankfully, there are others in the world who will have the faith for you, when you are faced with dire circumstances. While they climb that ladder in life, there is one hand extended downward reaching to lift you up. Others leave a trail of breadcrumbs for you to discover and follow back into the land of the living and into the fold of family and friends.

    In her way, Lauren is paying it forward by telling her story, thanks to J.Patrick Coolican, that just might inspire another to think better of themself. Lauren is standing and calling attention to the massive problem that exists not only in the world, but in the community, and in our neighborhoods.

    If, as a civilized society we disapprove of it, we must find a way to deal with it. For too long, good people did nothing but dismiss the problem of the illegal sex trade and human trafficking confronting them. Denying it exists has not brought solutions nor made the world a better place. Commenter Bradley Chapline's story posted yesterday, and today further kindles the fires of hope and encouragement for us all. Never give up, on yourself or others!

    Each one of us can do our part, show compassion, and be supportive towards breaking the chains of human suffering and bondage.

    Stay strong, Lauren.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. "A small community of activists, police officers, social workers and others are fighting the good fight, however, and without them, Lauren might still be enslaved." And the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Without diminishing those who really did have good intentions (Shawnette Roque, certainly, and Youth Advocate Programs), we can immediately exclude the police and the politicians: They began by creating the market for child prostitution, second they created the job of pimp for Darrell; and, third, they treated this victim (over whom they shed their fake crocodile tears) like a criminal by institutionalizing her and giving her an arrest record.

    You fail to face the truth in both articles that the "horrifying world of human trafficking" was and is intentionally created by the police and politicians: government prohibition of prostitution not only creates child prostitution, but also causes literally every other ill, which they cite. Our "leaders" and "servants" virtuously stoop to reward themselves for confusing on purpose the causes and effects of child prostitution and for failing, as just one example, to "observe" the relative absence of child prostitutes in the 13 counties of Nevada where prostitution is legal compared to the high numbers under their jurisdiction.

    Please be the first to write about the real cause of child prostitution: the trough-feeders' dissembling, cowardice, enslavement to religious hypocrisy (especially their devotion to violence in general and their bias against women), and even trashing of the founding document of our society (who remembers "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness"?). That is bad enough. But they don't stop there: they actually have the gall to complain about the very ills they have brought to society. Worse, they claim to have the solutions to all the problems they created! Of course, their solutions are always the same: fewer rights, more violence, more punishment, more prejudice, more self-importance, and, of course, more money and power (for them!).

    They criminalized this poor girl!! They put her in Juvenile Detention--not Child Haven! They gave her the ankle bracelet, after having created the perfect environment for her to get hurt. They gave a criminal record to a "victim", by their own reckoning! Hopefully not in this case, but statistics indicate that, thanks primarily to the criminalization process to which she was subjected, she is more likely to become a permanent welfare burden on the taxpayers than a lawyer. Isn't it inappropriate to include these people "as fighting the good fight" even in this case, which has such a "happy ending"?

    Ed Uehling

  3. Why in the world aren't Pimps forced to register as Sex Offenders? It's the least we could do. The best would be to offer up Castration to them as an alternative. Simply put, pimps use sex as a weapon against women and young girls to lure and keep them as prostitutes, just as robber will use a gun to commit their crimes. Why are we not literally disarming this scum?

  4. Much positive and others have started to post the high fives. I would like to point out that the victims who recover from these crimes need to train for and become employed in UNRELATED OCCUPATIONS. Sure it's fine to aspire to being an attorney to fight these crimes but let's deal with survival first. Get a job that will support you and your baby now and in even-tougher economic situations. From my perpetual-economic-realism perspective--we need self-sufficient people raising their children by themselves. There must be an end to the endless reliance on government programs. I agree that she needs help now but let's find a path that winds into independence.

  5. Oh, and Lauren can be a fantastic mother with her realization of what is out there that her child must face.

  6. When your "community" has as its role models, musicians, politicians and activists who write and support hit songs about gangbangs, rape and promote violence against woman by using words worse than what Rush used.... When your "community" promotes violence as the solution to everything, do you really expect anything good to come out of it??

    It's nice to see someone get out of it... But she should have never been put in that position by a parent or community that turns a blind eye to the cause of it.

    The pimp will be out in a few weeks and the neighborhood will welcome him back in to do it all over again....

  7. azxk8fan, "do away with demand". This is the approach used in the Drug War which has thrown millions of non-violent marijuana users into our violence-prone prisions and we can see how that has gone. If we had to make a choice of doing away with people's right to choose, we would be better off to engage in our human inclination to believe in fanciful thinking. Then the churches who promote and benefit would have no customers and public policy could be based on human rationality and experience, rather than on religious dogma. That would be a good starting point for turning around our society and economy. Ed Uehling

  8. Good point, Mark Anthony. When people consume the kinds of degrading recordings by certain "artists," they do become desensitized and stupidly follow the lyrics, morals, and behaviors of such artists.

    Marketing edginess and sex as a tool to sell a product or service is nothing new and is right under our noses. Look at the billions of dollars that are raised thanks to that mentality. There is nothing good or wholesome about the messages being screamed out on the airwaves. However, our Constitution allows such freedom to do this.

    Raising and exposing children to such a culture sets them up for rebellion, heartache, and failure. Parents have the right to control the home environment and dictate what their children may partake in.

    Most educators are quite sensitive to the bombardment of negative messages towards their students and do intervene as the occassion warrants because by law these children are in their care, and they must attend to the welfare, care, safety, and security of each and every child they serve.

    It is pretty difficult to "turn a blind eye" when a child is acting out because of the influence of negative music, videos, abandonment, or behaviors. The best an educator can do is make a suggestion to a parent. Again, the responsibility lands in the the parent's lap.

    Welcome to America.

    Blessings and Peace,

  9. "I am pleased to note that no one has brought any criticism on my assertion I first made a few months ago. Las Vegas high schools lead the nation in teenage prostitution."

    acejoker -- I'll bite. Consider your assertion criticised. You base it on what exactly?

    "With morality the individual is led into being a function of the herd and to ascribing value to himself only as a function. . .Morality is the herd instinct in the individual." -- Frederich Nietzsche 1882 "The Gay Science"

  10. Legalisation and regulation would eliminate most of the black market, thereby eliminating most of the problem and most of the cost.

  11. Before some fool brings it up---I meant legalisation and regulation of the sex trade, NOT human trafficking.

  12. "...I meant legalisation and regulation of the sex trade, NOT human trafficking."

    davestovall -- I have a better idea. Do what our founders set up our republic to do -- leave people alone!

    "The struggle for liberty has been a struggle against Government. The essential scheme of our Constitution and Bill of Rights was to take Government off the backs of people." -- Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc. v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 412 U.S. 94, 162 (1973), Justice Douglas concurring

  13. "I do not feel that my positive experience as an escort is unusual. Las Vegas is full of smart and accomplished women who work as escorts."

    HadleyH -- about time we heard from someone who actually knows something besides the headlines! Thanx so much for posting!

    "We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force." - Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

  14. "Yeah, sure the females who engage in prostitution are "accomplished" in ways other than sex."

    acejoker -- your post is despicable.

    "Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days?" -- George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, 1925 Nobel Prize winner

  15. Leave people alone? Where did all the "runaways" in the 70's and 80's go to. Thousands were forced into prostitution and a few got away and came back to tell us about the pimps, motorcycle gangs/clubs, and "businessmen" who pandered them and continued to force them to perform. There are witnesses to the murder of "girls" who didn't follow orders. The "profile" of the pimp may have evolved a bit but this type of crime continues because THERE IS A MARKET FOR IT. If we take away the market we take away the crime. Arrest and prosecute Johns (of illegal prostitution.)

  16. "Killer B, So is it your belief that prostitutes enter the profession after succeeding in other enterprises or professions?"

    acejoker -- don't assume my beliefs. I'm taking HadleyH at face value as having far more credibility in this than you.

    "Leave people alone? Where did all the "runaways" in the 70's and 80's go to. Thousands were forced into prostitution..."

    Roslenda -- yes, leave people alone. "Runaways" are obviously running away from something, which is their privilege. You seem to think it's fine to invent crimes applying to everybody to make some do-gooders feel good about themselves. Since it appears you're on some crusade and make it up as you go along, I'm finished with you in this Discussion.

    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C.S. Lewis