The focus in Nevada on juvenile sex offenders (see yesterday’s post below) might be a tad misplaced. Sex, yes; juveniles, yes. But the offenders–in Las Vegas, at least–are more likely to be adults than teens.
As this AP report notes, Las Vegas has become a hub for underage prostitutes. No shock there, I suppose, but that doesn’t blunt the impact of the statistics or make the problem any less urgent. More than 400 minors were found working as prostitutes in the city in May 2007, according to a new report by the nonprofit Shared Hope International. Almost 1,500 minors have faced prostitution-related charges in the area since 1994; 157 juveniles were brought in on such charges last year, up slightly from 153 in 2006.
“These kids don’t really belong in juvenile justice but don’t fit anywhere else in the system,” Family Court Judge William Voy (who is expected to hand down his ruling on juvenile sex offenders in Nevada today) told the AP. “They’re out there being victimized but also committing a delinquent act, prostitution. There is no alternative but the detention center.”
I’m not sure about that; I think there are alternatives, in fact, or should be. If these teen girls are forced by their pimps to commit delinquent acts–if, indeed, they’re victims of the trafficking trade, as Voy accurately terms them–then detention isn’t the place for them.
Shared Hope International, the brainchild of right-wing former Congresswoman Linda Smith, seems at a glance to have found a good alternative–or at least suggests that alternative models are out there. The organization offers “rescue” interventions for victims of the trade (whatever that means) and a nine-month program that includes, among other things, job-skills training for girls who want to turn their lives around and claim their independence. (I haven’t done enough research on the organization to know if I support it; I’m commenting here only on what’s available online, which is fairly skimpy.)
Locking these girls up in detention centers is a good way to ensure that if and when they get out, they’ll have only a limited set of “job skills” to draw on, the same “skills” that got them locked up in the first place. Breaking that cycle should be the first order of business, not punishing them for acts they committed under duress. If the state of Nevada doesn’t have a sensible program for these girls, it should build one.