Officials turn blind eye to massage parlors hiding prostitution
As college students embark upon a new fall semester at UNLV, lawmakers and appointed government officials sit tight, knowing that the glitz of the Boulevard will provide distraction enough to hide Las Vegas’ darkest secret.
Six billion dollars. 1,496. 41 percent.
Respectively, those numbers represent the following: the estimated net yearly worth of Las Vegas’ prostitution industry, the number of domestic child sex traffic victims reported between January 1994 and July 2007 in our city and the percentage of those minors reporting past sexual assault.
Disturbed? It gets worse. Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization combating human trafficking, revealed that the average age of child prostitution in Las Vegas is 12 to 14 years old.
These numbers merely reflect domestic-born victims, not taking into account the thousands of innocent young women kidnapped or coerced in the nations of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Russia, the Philippines and others, who are smuggled into the U.S. and forced to become prostitutes.
While figures regarding international victims are unavailable, one need look no farther than the massage parlors that inhabit numerous shopping centers.
With names like “Oriental Angels Massage,” customers fully expect — and receive — a so-called happy ending. Propped up by casinos, these shops litter the streets of Las Vegas and provide sexual services for money, keeping casino high rollers within city limits (instead of other counties’ legalized brothels) and fueling an influx of child sex slaves from both the U.S. and the Third World.
Who allows this repulsiveness to continue? The State of Nevada Board of Massage Therapy.
Chaired by Billie Shea, the eight commissioners appointed by the acting governor are counted upon to approve or deny massage licenses, as well as investigate malpractices and wrongdoing. This board continues to issue certifications for businesses that offer illegal services.
Local lawmakers also do their part to push child sex trafficking issues under the table. Recently, Oriental Angels Massage was shut down by the Las Vegas City Council. Don’t consider it a victory, though. The closure was ordered only after five incidents of soliciting prostitution between 2008 and 2010.
Five? Was one or two not enough? In order to show they “mean business” when it comes to trafficking and prostitution, the city also slapped the parlor’s owner with a $50,000 fine.
But the Council’s vote on that fine barely passed with a 4-3 margin. Who were the three members of the council that voted against the fine?
Councilmen Steve Wolfson and Ricki Barlow, and our esteemed mayor, Oscar Goodman. I’m hoping Steve and Ricki really meant it when they cried that $50,000 was simply “too much.” However, Oscar is a different story.
He makes no apologies for being a former mob lawyer and persists in his glorified corruption by backhandedly baptizing child sex slavery.
In a 2007 New York Times op-ed, writer Bob Herbert blasted Nevada for its thriving sex trade and detailed the story of a 14 year-old girl in Las Vegas whose drug problem may havebeen her simplest issue.
The girl was undernourished, suffering from a sexually transmitted disease and was carrying a seven-month-old child fathered by her pimp.
Within the same article, Dr. Melissa Farley, founder of Prostitution Research & Education, commented that Las Vegas stands as the “epicenter of North American prostitution and sex trafficking.”
How did Goodman respond to Herbert’s thought-provoking article? By threatening his life. “I have no use for him. I’ll take a baseball bat and break his head if he ever comes here,” Goodman said.
Governor Jim Gibbons fits right in with the vileness of Shea and Goodman. Albeit our governor does deserve some credit for signing a bill that increases sex trafficking penalties.
But Gibbons appointed the Nevada Board of Massage Therapy that appeases the sex trade industry. Furthermore, on Gibbons’ watch, Nevada continues to rank in the second-to-bottom tier of Human Trafficking State Ratings, released annually by the Polaris Project.
Some advancements have been made in the fight against child sex slavery. An FBI Human Trafficking Task Force was created in November of 2008.
Organizations like Shared Hope International and The Shade Tree Shelter operate to uncover child trafficking incidents as well as rehabilitate victims.
And local NBC-affiliate My News 3’s Hetty Chang has been a community leader in investigating and reporting Las Vegas’ trafficking atrocities, while also uniting the Asian-American community in opposition.
Despite these bright spots, the battle has only begun. Shared Hope International’s comprehensive report, “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in Las Vegas, Nevada,” sheds light on the plethora of remaining issues.
For starters, state laws must be changed to treat child sex slaves as victims, rather than as juvenile offenders. (This current law enforcement mentality discourages victims from seeking refuge.) Increased resources must be provided for the psychological recovery, education, protection and health services of victims.
Finally, facilitators across the board must be prosecuted — from the taxi drivers who produce massage parlor patrons in exchange for tips to the international traffickers, local pimps and even the sex-seeking customers themselves.
One more thing: Changing the leadership of Las Vegas and Nevada could help.
What can you do to fight child sex slavery?
1) Volunteer or join a local chapter of a non-profit like Shared Hope International (sharedhope.org), the Polaris Project (polarisproject.org) or Not For Sale (notforsalecampaign.org).
2) Write or email your city council and state representatives to express your outrage regarding this issue. You would be surprised at how much these messages are taken into account.
3) Tell a friend. Tell your parents. Tell your professors and the randoms on campus. Lack of public awareness is the biggest obstacle to changing the current system.