The average age when individuals begin engaging in prostitution is 13. So far this year, more than 200 minors have been arrested for soliciting prostitution in Clark County alone.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee met this morning to continue a heated discussion regarding legislation that would change the way that the court system deals with minors who are arrested on prostitution charges.
Currently, minors arrested for soliciting prostitution are sent to juvenile delinquency centers to await a hearing. After appearing before a judge, they are either sentenced to continue their time in these juvenile centers or are sent back into the streets and monitored through the use of tracking devices.
If passed, Assembly Bill 241 would allow the Division of Child and Family Services of the Department of Health and Human Services to operate safe houses for children who have been arrested for prostitution. The bill would also define conditions under which these children could be treated as minors in need of supervision rather than delinquents. Children who meet the conditions would be diverted to safe houses instead of being incarcerated in juvenile detention centers. Instead of being considered criminals, they would be considered victims of an adult who exploited and used them for trafficking.
Karen Hughes with the Clark County Police testified in favor of AB241 during today’s hearing.
“It’s disturbing to me, and my entire unit, that we’re arresting these young girls; 238 just this year. There needs to be an avenue to treat them as a child that needs supervision as opposed to a delinquent,” Hughes said. “The safe harbor statute, I think, will send a message to tourists of Nevada that our kids are not for sale,” Hughes said.
Mary Ellison is Director of Policy at the Polaris Project, a Washington D.C. based anti-trafficking organization. She spoke in favor of safe houses during this morning’s committee meeting.
“This bill would create an important safety net for these children,” Ellison said.
Potential sources of funding for the proposed safe houses have yet to be identified, and funds from the state are limited. The Polaris Project suggests that both Federal grants and donations from various non-profit organizations be used to build and fund the supervising facilities.
If passed, the bill will go into effect in October of this year. The Assembly Judiciary Committee will continue the conversation regarding this bill in the coming weeks.