21 – Serving Youth in Las Vegas, with Esther Brown

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Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak interview Esther Brown, the Sexually Exploited Youth Project Administrator in Las Vegas, to learn what she is doing to serve commercially sexually exploited youth in Las Vegas, Nevada. Esther provides insight on what it mean to provide victim advocacy to youth who have been exploited and the current gaps in services.

Key Points

  • Children are being brought to Nevada from surrounding states to be exploited in Las Vegas.
  • When children are being moved between states, it is important to have relationships with organizations and victim service providers in neighboring states.
  • Victim minors are ending up in the juvenile detention centers due to a lack of safe housing.
  • A majority of the commercially sexually exploited youth identified have had prior sexual abuse from their childhood.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 21, recorded in January 2012. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:27] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:30] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, glad to be back with you for episode number 21. And I’m glad that we have a guest with us again today to teach us more about how we can utilize our resources and knowledge to end human trafficking. And I’m so grateful for all these wonderful resources and relationships you have all over the world. And so I know our guest today is going to be phenomenal in helping us to gain more traction on this issue.

Sandie [00:01:04] Well, I’m really excited to have our guest today. I met her first when I was invited over to Las Vegas to meet with a team that work with commercially sexually exploited children. And then she and part of her team came to Vanguard when we had the Juvenile Justice Summit. And I learned so much from her because of her direct experience with working with many, many of these victims and trying to figure out the best way to address that. She’s going to be part of our March Ensure Justice conference.

Dave [00:01:41] Oh, great.

Sandie [00:01:41] Coming up March 2nd and 3rd.

Dave [00:01:43] Good.

Sandie [00:01:43] It’s time to get your registration. And Dave, if you haven’t at GCWJ.vanguard.edu.

Dave [00:01:50] I’m actually going to be doing mine in the next few days here. Because I have it on my list to get it in and to get on the registration list.

Sandie [00:01:57] Because you want the early bird special.

Dave [00:01:59] That’s exactly what I have on my task list is to get in before the early bird special finishes.

Sandie [00:02:05] So, before I introduce our guest, I do want to tell you that if you have a question and you want to call it in, you can call the direct line 714-966-6360 and leave a voicemail and we’ll use that question in our next podcasts. Also, you can email directly to GCWJ@vanguard.edu.

Dave [00:02:29] And I don’t know if we’ve mentioned this recently, Sandie, but we do of course have a Facebook page set up as well, which has not only the podcast episodes on it, but in addition to that, a lot of conversation and articles and dialogue that is valuable for anyone who cares deeply about ending this issue. And so go ahead and if you’re on Facebook and you haven’t already tapped into that, do a search on Facebook for the Global Center for Women and Justice. That’s again here at Vanguard University. And you’ll be able to find us there, connect with us, and really join the dialogue that will help all of us to stay connected in being able to address the issues, but also to be able to study the issues so we can really make a difference.

Sandie [00:03:09] Exactly. So I’m excited to introduce to you Esther Brown. When she introduces herself she often remarks about her accent from Mississippi. I have to tell you a secret. It’s not Mississippi. It’s Barcelona, Spain. And like, do we have the music?

Dave [00:03:28] I don’t have any.

Sandie [00:03:30] No, okay. But she doesn’t live in Barcelona anymore. She is the sexually exploited youth project administrator in Las Vegas, Nevada. So, Esther, welcome.

Esther [00:03:43] Thank you. How are you guys? Thank you for having me here today.

Sandie [00:03:47] Well, I’m excited. I want you to explain to our listeners what your job title means. Sexually exploited youth project administrator. What do you do?

Esther [00:04:01] Well, we will need the 30 minutes only to explain you what I do. But the long title that I have, it’s created just to give an overview of the part of the job that we’re doing for this project. Goal number one is trying to identify who are the victims of sexual exploitation in Las Vegas and also the ones who come from other jurisdictions. How many of these girls or boys, because we have some boys too, a few, are too old system. So they are part of a child welfare or the dependency system. And you think California it is delinquency at the same time and what type of the resources we have in our community in another state so we can bring the resources together to serve and cover the needs of these victims.

Sandie [00:04:59] Wow.

Esther [00:04:59] And then I’m also here, I had to put together trainings and conferences and I had to write protocols and things that I kind of [00:05:08]bore. [0.0s]

Sandie [00:05:10] Wow. So you’re really like a bridge between kids who are in dependency and then end up in delinquency.

Esther [00:05:19] Yes, pretty much. And in specific, those ones who are victims of sexual exploitation. Part of my job is also working directly with the victims. Some times I go and pick them up from whatever they are. I go to detention and interview them. And again, trying to bring all the players together, probation, CPS investigators, caseworkers, service providers, lawyers, you know, everybody who is working with this particular child in the system that we can sit in a table and talk about the case so we can bring our ideas and brainstorm and bring different resources that everybody has for the well-being of this child.

Sandie [00:06:06] Now, you mentioned that you work with kids who are from other jurisdictions. What do you mean by that?

Esther [00:06:14] Well, Las Vegas, because anybody want a come to Las Vegas to have fun. We have a lot of kids who are being brought from California, from Arizona, Oregon, from all these states that we have around. And they are being brought to Las Vegas to be exploited. So what happened is when a girl or a boy is arrested in this particular case is from California, now we have to have a contact person or we have to create a relationship with those states and with those counties, L.A. County, San Bernardino. So when we bring the kid back because the judge is going to transfer the case back to where the kid coming from, we can make sure that that child and the other end have line-up services that will be effective for her or for him.

Sandie [00:07:10] Now, you said that you do the interviews in detention. So, explain to us if they’re in detention, that means they’re in the juvenile detention center and they’re not in a group home. Why would we put a victim in detention?

Esther [00:07:31] That’s a great question and that’s part of my job too in this position is to really start treating them as victims. Because we know they victims, but we are still treating the kids as the delinquent. It’s because there is a lack of a safe homes. We don’t have a safe house and a safe place in Las Vegas, even though that is kind of unbelievable. Because this is kind of the home, the hub of human trafficking for minors. But we don’t have a trafficking shelter for victims of sexual exploitation or human trafficking. And we also we don’t have either a safe home where these victims can be assessed and they can be secure and safe. So therefore, the judge has to keep them in detention because the majority of these kids, they will run back to their pimp or the pimp will come and pick them up when we put them in the only shelter that we have that is not secure.

Sandie [00:08:28] Why did they run back to the pimp

Esther [00:08:33] Well, because this is what they know. Some of these kids, they really don’t have any other place to go. We can get into the Stockholm Syndrome and other things that come with the trauma that they have to go through. It’s very similar to what happened with domestic violence. People always is talking well why do they go back to their aggressor, why they keep coming back? Because they create this trauma bond with the trafficker, with the pimp. Sometimes it is a lack of so poor around these kids. They are homeless or their families are broken. There is nothing positive. And what they know sometimes these kids go back. Of course, it’s fear because sometimes they make them and they threat their families as well. You know, a lotta times people back to the pimp.

Dave [00:09:34] You know, Sandie and Esther, I’ve been listening to this conversation and you both have just tremendous expertise in this area. And of course, I have very limited expertise. But one of the things that I really have noticed as we talk about victims of human trafficking is the belief that I think many people have, and I probably did at some point, too, of how why don’t people just go away? You know, why don’t people run away? Why don’t people just exit the system or try to get out of the situation? And how important it is to recognize, and we here Esther saying this again today too, of the psychological aspects of dependency that come up and they really don’t make this just a being physically bound, but being mentally and emotionally bound as well, too. And I just noticed that in your conversation already. And I think it’s interesting, Sandie, how much this continues to come up as an obstacle for victims.

Sandie [00:10:31] Esther, you mentioned the trauma bond. And I think that’s a critical aspect for us to understand. Could you explain that a little bit more?

Esther [00:10:42] Yes. When we talk about these victims, we cannot talk about with a blindside. We need to see the whole picture. The majority of these kids, I don’t have the statistics, but I’m talking to one of our justice here from the Supreme Court and he was telling me the qualities that he saw when he was a judge in delinquent, he cites 95 percent they were coming from or they had at one point contact with the child welfare system, with the dependency side. So, we have to look at the whole. These kids coming from broken home. These kids coming from foster homes or group homes or the majority of these girls, also, at least 90 percent they had some type of sexual abuse when there were little. So, they already come in a shape that they already had trauma coming from what they coming from. Now, when a pimp or trafficker get in touch with these girls, the majority of the girls that they recruit, they are not being kidnaped and forced to be into prostitution. Because when people think about human trafficking, they have in the movie Taken right, that they kidnap the girl and that scene. And that doesn’t happen too often. That doesn’t mean that these kids are there because they want to be. They are being lured into prostitution. The pimps are very smart. They give them all the needs that they– They cover the primary needs, which is food, shelter and attention. That’s just human needs. Everybody needs that. So when they pimp covers that, then they start seasoning the victims. First, they make them fall in love with them so they can create a dependency. You are the only person who cares about me. He loves me. He wants me to be the mother of his child. He really cares about me. That’s all the things that the girls tell me when I talk to them. When the pimp has completely control of their mind now they start with the fear and they beat the girls around these new girls. And now they start beating these new girls and sometimes– Burning them with cigarettes. Tattooing them so that everybody knows this is a piece of property. So they create all these trauma bonds. It’s very similar really to the Stockholm Syndrome. They know they’re that they don’t want to be there, but they use these strong dependency that is so hard to break. I was myself a victim of domestic violence many, many years ago. So I guess I’m a survivor now. And I ask myself, why I didn’t leave? It’s because of a lot of things, because of fear. It’s because you think your’re in love with that person. It’s because you think things are going to change. Because these men all the time is not bad. And for these girls either. Sometimes it’s bad. Sometimes it’s good. We didn’t think they take the girls to Disneyland and they do treats. But when it’s bad, it’s very bad. So, it takes years of treatment in therapy to break these bonds that they have with the pimp. They don’t buy their clothes. They don’t know how to cook because basically they don’t get fed. I mean, it’s a lot of things. It’s a lot of things coming to the plate.

Sandie [00:14:25] So, you know, to do this job as the sexually exploited youth project administrator, what does your typical day look like?

Esther [00:14:36] Well, really, I can’t schedule a day that I say, wow, I have a pretty good day today and its going to look that I can be in my office in front of my computer, putting together all these paper that I need to do and writing down things. And finally, everything change because I got a call from the station that one of the girls want to talk to me. I get a call from the vice detective that they did a new arrest or maybe…. solicitation. But they know that she’s soliciting to see if I can follow up for more in the family and bring resources. So, really the only day out of the week that I know what I’m doing is Wednesdays because I’m there with Judge Voy in the courtroom and its when we have our vice calendar. Thats the only day that he’s untouchable and every Wednesday I have to be in court with the girls.

Sandie [00:15:28] Yeah. And I am glad you mentioned Judge Voy because he’s going to come and be part of our conference as well. And it’s so important for our community to understand what you’re doing and how difficult it is. And I think recently we had a phone appointment and you had to go to court. Why is it so important for you to be there with the girls in court?

Esther [00:15:54] Because right now, we don’t have a lot of advocates. And that was what I was doing before I took over this position. They need to know that there is somebody for them that doesn’t represent law enforcement or the courts. The majority of the girls, they really don’t know what my position is. They always say that I’m a youth advocate or I’m a victim advocate. Really, they  don’t know what fully my position is and that I’m working along with the courts. But for them, it’s   very important to have a familiar face who is not accusing them of anything at all. So, I’m just there. They feel comfortable. They feel there is an emotional support. And right now, part of my plan is to create a group of victim advocates like we have with CASA, the court advocacy program. But, and specifically for these victims, that they can go or the advocate can go with them to juvenile court and then they can go with them to adult court when they have to testify against their traffickers or other pimps.

Sandie [00:17:06] That’s a really important aspect. When you mentioned they have to go to adult court to testify against the trafficker, the perpetrator. If they run away, if we don’t keep them safe and secure, then we have no witness. What happens to that perpetrator? What happens to that human trafficker if she doesn’t testify?

Esther [00:17:28] He goes free. And that’s one of our problems. Sometimes it’s so complicated because we re-victimize these victims again through the system because of the thing that they need to do so we can put these traffickers away. When we don’t have the victims testify, the traffickers go free and nothing happens. But of course, it’s very traumatic for these girls to, first of all, turn in who they think was his boyfriend. I mean, her boyfriend or her lover. Number two is they have all these mentality because some time some girls they come from the gang culture. So it’s very difficult to break and prove that it’s victim mentality, you run his needs and you don’t talk. And number three is they have to revive again all the trauma and they have to go sometimes in front of the court where the pimp is sitting there looking at them and explain all the things that he did to her. So as you can imagine, it’s a very traumatic experience.

Esther [00:18:48] Wow. So I’m so glad that you’re there with them. But if we don’t provide the services to support that girl or that boy, they’re not going to be prepared to testify and the perpetrator goes free. That’s what I understood, right?

Esther [00:19:07] Yeah. And we have other organizations that we work together like Salvation Army. They also do receive occupancy with them in court. Sometimes Doctor also go with the girls to the court. So and that’s because we right now we don’t have a group of victim advocates who are being trained, properly trained to go with the girls. So we have both in the youth advocacy program, they do that too. But of course everybody have their own jobs and they go when they can because they provide other services. So, what we would like to see is a group of advocates is that’s their job, that’s what they come to do. And these advocate is gonna go with them from the beginning to end.

Sandie [00:19:55] This past week I had the privilege of doing a two-hour training on commercial sexual exploitation of children for the Orange County CASA volunteers, court appointed special advocates. And over and over again, as we went through this, these people who are volunteers who take one child’s issue and go to court with them every time, see them regularly, they’re that familiar face to be with them over and over. These wonderful community volunteers said that sounds just like the risk factors that are involved with my kid that I’m working with. So they began to see that if I don’t show up, this could be what would happen to the child that I’m advocating for. They could end up in juvenile delinquency issues or they could end up in Las Vegas in your court. So community engagement can be as simple as being a CASA volunteer for one child. And in Orange County, we have 800 CASA volunteers. I think that’s pretty phenomenal.

Esther [00:21:07] We have in Vegas, too, the CASA program and they do a wonderful job. So, I’m looking into everybody, you know, because if we can partner with CASA maybe that’s also– So, I’m looking at every aspect of collaboration, not to reinvent anything or create anything more because we already have some of the resources here. So we need to take advantage of what is in place already.

Sandie [00:21:35] Now, there’s two more questions that I have because I can’t believe how fast our time goes when we’re talking about these things. First of all, you mentioned the connection between gangs and how that impacts how willing the child is to testify because of fear of gang reprisals. How prevalent are gangs in all of this?

Esther [00:21:58] Well, easily every day, every time is more prevalent. Actually, my background is in gangs. That’s how I started working with youth. I have my own program that we teach the similarities between gangs and genocide. And I used to work with the hardcore kids that are involved in gangs and in the system. So, right now, think about its way cheaper to lurer a girl into prostitution and you make more money because there is no initial investment. When the gangs have to buy weapons or drugs to sell in the community, number one, the initial investment is big. You only can sell that one time. You only going to sell the weapon one time to that person, and drugs the same. When you lurer a girl into prostitution, the initial investment is fairly low because normally you can go to do their nails, their hair. You want to buy some food. Then you want to play Romeo with them. And thats your initial investment. Second of all, you can sell that girl as many times as you want. These girls get sell every day 6, 7, 10 times a day. So the money that they bring is so big that now we have rival gangs getting together and collaborating for the sake of the money because its so much.

Sandie [00:23:30] We recently hosted Dr. Laura Lederer on this show and she began a research project to identify cases in court that have already been closed that had to deal with gang issues that are related to commercial sexual exploitation of children. So, I think this is something that is becoming more prevalent in our understanding, at least, in our communities. And speaking of our communities, Esther, tell us at least three things that you want from your community that would help us stop this.

Esther [00:24:09] Well, I think that we right now we are doing some seed work. Number one, I would like to see the community more engaged in putting pressure on the people who really can make the big changes, which are our elected officials. We really need a safe home and a drop in shelter. And I think that if the community come together and request these to our elected officials, then this can happen. Number two, I think it’s important to bring together everybody, faith-based community, no faith-based, schools. Everybody need to know about the issue. And to start seeing these victims as victims and not as throwaway children. And number three, I think is the most important sometimes is that we really, truly need to work together and leave our egos at the door and our personal issues at the door and understand that this is not about us. It’s about them. It’s about the kids and about their safety. And if we can have these three things–

Sandie [00:25:32] Oh wow. Yeah, I think the idea of a safe home. A lot of people don’t really understand what that means. And I think what you explained earlier about these girls needing to go to court helps us get a better picture of what a safe home is. It’s not just a place where we have locks so people can’t get in, but it’s secure so that the girls or the boys are not able to run because of all of the psychology. So a safe house is secure from both sides of the door. Is that clear? Yeah.

Esther [00:26:05] Exactly. Yes, that’s right. You explain that very well.

Sandie [00:26:09] OK. And the drop in shelter. This is becoming a trend that we’re starting to see that helps kids who have gotten out but they just need encouragement every week. And I think we’re going to see more drop in shelters and I’d like to hear more models. And so if anyone’s listening and you know of a drop in shelter in your area, such as in New York and up in San Francisco, in Portland  they have one. Let’s start talking about that and see where that’s going and how that’s something a community can come together to do. And your second point about bringing the community together. I mean, that’s one of our goals with our Ensure Justice conference standing together to end exploitation of girls. We want everybody to come, not just the professionals. We want the people who could become an advocate for just one girl or one boy. We want the people who would support a drop in center by baking once a week. It takes the whole community to really do something that’s going to end this.

Esther [00:27:27] Yes, you got it. You’ve summarized it very well. Your English is way better than mine.

Sandie [00:27:33] But, you know, you bring up another point and we’ve only got just two minutes left. But one of the things I want people to understand, too, is that a lot of these kids that are being exploited are not necessarily all our own American citizens, but there are immigrant populations where kids are very much at risk. So the fact that you’re Spanish is so much better than mine is a real advantage because you can help victims that aren’t able to communicate what’s happening to them in English. Do you have Spanish speaking victims?

Esther [00:28:08] Yes, we do. And actually, some of our victims appear to be domestic because they were brought to the country at a very young age. But then it happened to be that they are international victims. And the majority of the time when we encounter international victims, we work with Salvation Army so we can get them the t-visas and they can get the benefits that they deserve. But yeah, it helps a lot, especially with the families, because sometimes the kids speak English more or less. Kind of like me. But the families they don’t. It’s great that I can speak Spanish in my community with victims. And you know, when you are in a position, when you’re in a situation of trauma, you want to speak in your mother language, you feel better if that’s your language.

Sandie [00:29:03] Esther, I think you are the perfect person to be the sexually exploited youth project administrator in Las Vegas. And we are so happy to have you as a partner with our Ending Human Trafficking podcast and as a presenter at our upcoming conference to Ensure Justice and stand together to end the exploitation of girls.

Esther [00:29:24] Thank you very much, Sandie. Thank you so much for having me here and for all your nice words. Thank you.

Sandie [00:29:30] I’ll see you soon.

Esther [00:29:33] Alright, see you soon.

Dave [00:29:35] You know, Sandie, every time we have a conversation with somebody, I am just reminded how much of how much I don’t know. You know, where I hear new terms all the time. Drop in shelter, something I had never heard until today. And so I think probably the same is true for many members of our audience. And so if you’re wanting to learn more, meet Esther, meet other folks like her and hear from people who are really doing great work around this, be sure to check out the conference. GCWJ.vanguard.edu. You can register. The early bird registration lasts until Wednesday.

Sandie [00:30:07] February 12th.

Dave [00:30:08] OK, great. So hop online to look for that. And of course, if you have questions or comments for us, GCWJ@vanguard.edu or you can call us 714-966-636. Sandie, look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks.

Sandie [00:30:25] Thanks, Dave. Bye.

Dave [00:30:26] Bye.

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