In a nondescript house in a typical Las Vegas neighborhood, the nonprofit group Rite of Passage has established a safe place for victims of human trafficking.
Called Canyon View, it’s the type of transitional living facility that has been desperately needed in Southern Nevada, said U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who toured the group home Thursday.
When she was state attorney general for two terms starting in 2007, Cortez Masto said, the only safe refuge available for victims many times was jail.
“The best we could do to keep them safe away from the pimps was lock them up; that’s not a place to address their needs as victims,” she said.
Rite of Passage received a $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice to get the new safe house up and running.
“We anticipate this being a model that can be replicated based on need,” said Lawrence Howell, chief administrative officer and executive director of Rite of Passage.
Residents, who will have 24-hour supervision, will be able to stay at the shelter for up to six months, with extensions granted on a case-by-case basis. The home — the location is not being disclosed for security reasons — is also set up for victims with children.
“Each victim is different on the services that they need, and so we have to understand that and then be able to place them,” Cortez Masto said.
In 2019, there were as many as 5,687 cases of child human trafficking in Nevada, according to the most recent report from the Nevada Coalition to Prevent the Commercial Exploitation of Children.
Cortez Masto said the problem is not unique to Nevada, and more federal funding is needed to help victims of human trafficking.
Cortez Masto is pushing Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act, originally signed into law by President Bill Clinton and reauthorized multiple times until 2018.
The House passed the bill last month, and Cortez Masto said it’s time for the Senate to do the same. There has been a hang-up in the Senate over “ridiculous” opposition to some expanded protections for tribes, she said.
“They’ve been playing politics with it, unfortunately,” Cortez Masto said. “It needs to pass in the form that it passed out of the House, on the Senate side.”
In the immediate future, there is still work to do, Cortez Masto said.
“We have to figure out how we address and stop the fundamental reason why men are still exploiting and wanting these services from young girls … and we haven’t done it yet,” she said.