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Las Vegas nonprofits detail realities, myths of human trafficking

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Posted at 7:54 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 13:21:52-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is Tuesday and Las Vegas-based nonprofits are joining forces to combat the issue of human trafficking through education, prevention and support.

Signs of HOPE is a nonprofit that serves victims of human trafficking. It has been around for 50 years.

Advocates with Signs of HOPE are working to combat some misconceptions about human trafficking. We’ve all likely seen viral posts on social media explaining sneaky tactics to sweep people off the street and into sex trafficking, but advocates say that’s not usually how it happens.

Instead, it’s usually a grooming process by someone in your inner circle.

Daniele Staple, executive director of Signs of HOPE, says the grooming process usually begins with someone coming in very friendly, offering financial help, or starting what appears to be a romantic relationship.

Staple says the most common risk factors for being exploited are children who have experienced prior sexual abuse or have an unstable home.

Another big misconception: Staple says there aren’t any dramatic rescues happening in the sex industry, because the person being exploited needs to make the decision to get out.

“Nobody is rescuing anyone; it takes so much courage and strength to leave the situation. We’re talking about years or connections with these individuals. There may be shared children, there are very deep family connections. It’s a very complex problem with a lot of complex solutions there is no one answer one way one solution that’s going to magically fix everything,” Staple added.

Staple says there are five places where children are typically groomed or recruited into trafficking situations:

  • Their own social networks
  • Their home neighborhood
  • Clubs or bars
  • The internet
  • Or at school

If you have concerns that someone you know is being trafficked or if you need help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 888-373-7888.

The Cupcake Girls is a non-profit based in Las Vegas and Portland that helps in the prevention and aftercare for human trafficking victims.

Executive Director of The Cupcake Girls Amy-Marie Merrell says traffickers will go after the most vulnerable victims, preying on their need for money, food and love. That’s why it’s so difficult to break that bond, even if it’s toxic.

Their mission is to wrap victims in that love and support as well as help them build the strength to leave.

The nonprofit has physical locations in Las Vegas and in Portland, but it has clients in 13 states.

The Cupcake Girls host counseling sessions to help victims find a fulfilling job and connect victims to lawyers, doctors, and organizations to help with drug addiction.

Merrell says traffickers often hold power over their victims by keeping them in addiction or withholding children. They’ve been able to help victims get clean and get their kids back.

“A lot of times within sex trafficking experiences, folks are given drugs or alcohol in order to coerce them and keep them in captivity with addiction, so there are these intersectionalities of oppression that they’re facing. It’s so scary to cut the cord, but we work with people like Foundation for Recovery in Las Vegas to help clients take that next step towards sobriety so they can take that next step towards getting their kids back, “ Merrell added.

The Cupcake Girls are working on turning a building in downtown Las Vegas into a resource center where victims can go to counseling, attend trauma-informed yoga classes and a business center where people can get help with resumes and building businesses. They are hoping to open the resource center in June 2022.

Eight businesses in Las Vegas are participating in the third annual Act Local campaign which kicks off on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. They are listed below:

  • Braeswood - portion of proceeds of Pozole Ramen bowl
  • Classic Jewel - portion of proceeds of specialty cocktail (TBD)
  • For The Love - 20% of sales on January 11
  • Frankies Uptown - $2 of every Huckleberry Mule purchased
  • Just Cupcakes LV - 100% of proceeds of all purchases
  • Paymon's (Sahara location only) - 10% of sales of all orders of Athen's Fries
  • Rick's Rollin Smoke BBQ! - $1 of every craft draft beer sold