LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — They’re first on the scene in emergencies, and now they might be the ones to disrupt the cycle of abuse. First responders all over Las Vegas are now being trained to spot the signs of human trafficking. It could be a difference-maker for many lives.
“When you see and hear about human trafficking with Vegas being a huge international and national hub for travel, it definitely strikes home with you because it is home.”
A home where David Foster raises his family. As a father of three kids, human trafficking hits a particular nerve for him as a first responder.
“You really watch out for your kids and you watch out for other people’s kids too,” he said.
He was one of the hundreds of first responders with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue getting trained to identify potential victims. Foster says in his 12 years working as a paramedic, he’s been in situations that trigger some suspicion.
“I’ve definitely run those calls where you upon a person that’s a little off, acting a little strange and your little red flags start to go off,” Foster said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline shows 186 cases of human trafficking have been reported in Nevada in 2020. SafeNest, a nonprofit that helps survivors says many cases come through Las Vegas.
“International Airport, lots of tourism and you’re a major city. Those three ingredients kind of make up the hub of what brings in human trafficking,” said Bri Aragon with SafeNest.
Foster says if he’s able to help save even just one victim, it will make a huge difference.
“It’d be up there with delivering a baby or saving somebody from a horrible car accident or pulling somebody from a fire. It would be right up there. Give them another chance on life,” he said.
“It was just a strip club. It was pretty straightforward. That’s what’s going to be.”
That’s how Samantha Summers-Rivas was originally drawn into sex work where she saw abuse and human trafficking.
“Other different things that I really wasn’t emotionally or mentally prepared to see,” she said.
20 years later, she got out and became a survivor’s advocate. Summers-Rivas founded RubiesLV, a nonprofit that helps trafficking victims. She says many find themselves in trafficking situations after being promised things like quick money or clout.
“So whatever the vulnerability is that the gal has, the traffickers are going to see that, hone in on that, and go in on that,” she said.
Summers-Rivas says she thrilled to hear first responders getting trained to identify victims.
“A firefighter or an EMT for a gal that might be in a bad situation is going to be easier and approachable for her to communicate with versus law enforcement,” she said.
She says these first responders have been key in helping countless survivors.
“I’ve had girls who have walked on to a fire station, who have decided to talk to a paramedic, who have decided to call fire and rescue.”
Ultimately, Summers-Rivas wants people to understand human trafficking can happen anywhere in the valley.
“Anywhere where children and young adults are hanging out, that’s where traffickers are going to be looking at who’s vulnerable and who they can make a move on,” she said.
Advocates also want to raise awareness that while many trafficking cases involve girls or women, men can also be victims and are less likely to seek help.