Film recounts story of sex trafficking victim in Las Vegas

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EMILY WILSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Amy Ayoub, a former victim of sex trafficking, is featured in the documentary, “The Zen Speaker: Breaking the Silence.” 

Mon, Jan 11, 2021 (10 p.m.)

Amy Ayoub is proud of her gray hair. A former victim of sex trafficking in Las Vegas, she didn’t think she would live to see it.

“The closest I ever came to dying was not at the hands of a pimp, but of a john,” Ayoub says in the documentary “The Zen Speaker: Breaking the Silence.”

The documentary, which sheds light on Ayoub’s life of neglect and abuse that led to sex trafficking as a teenager, airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on Vegas PBS. It’s online starting Friday.

Ayoub in the documentary speaks to girls housed at Caliente Youth Center, a juvenile detention center 150 miles north of Las Vegas, about the time her sex trafficker sent her to a hotel for “this safe date with a nice guy from Nellis Air Force Base.”

“As soon as I had my clothes off, he was strangling me and I heard a voice screaming really far away. And then, I realized that was my voice,” she said.

Ayoub left the lifestyle in 1975 after her nieces were born because she wanted to be a better person for them. She stayed with her father in Monte Carlo about eight months to get away from Las Vegas.

“(It got) me away from all those people. Not just miles but mentally and emotionally,” she said.

She landed a job on the Strip in a casino auditing department when returning to Las Vegas, working alongside gaming pioneer Claudine Williams. Williams, the first woman to run a casino, was a mentor for Ayoub.

“Claudine became like a second mother immediately, but also just a role model. I wanted to see a woman be that powerful and that confident and still that nice and that funny. She was a fabulous role model. And, she cared about me,” Ayoub said.

Ayoub eventually worked as a fundraiser for Nevada political campaigns and became the first woman to serve on the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

As a commissioner she became “the only woman with the guts to stand up to Mike Tyson,” after denying him a Nevada boxing license because of his history of violence against women and fighting dirty.

In 2013, she testified in front of the Nevada Legislature in support of a bill that increased penalties for those convicted of sex trafficking.

“With all the negativity that you saw in my life, there were also a lot of angels that came flying in at different times, and that’s why I’m still here today,” Ayoub said in a public discussion with a panel of child abuse experts after a screening of the film.

Esther Brown of Embracing Project, which helps child sex trafficking victims, said that when victims are removed from the streets they often sit in a juvenile detention center for at least 10 days. Nevada Senate Bill 293, enacted in 2019, prohibits placing child sex trafficking victims in juvenile jails, but the bill won’t take effect until there is infrastructure in place to evaluate and assist victims, she said.

“We don’t have a specialized foster home. We don’t have, in the state of Nevada, a receiving center for victims,” said Brown, who is also a consultant for the Division of Child and Family Services. She was a panelist.

Sean Taylor, a veteran detective with Metro Police who specializes in internet crimes against children, was also a panelist. Many predators find victims by using foreign apps that don’t have to obey search warrants from U.S. law enforcement agencies, he said.

Predators also lure children on regulated social media apps like Instagram. Then, they ask victims to switch to a different app like Snapchat, where photos and videos sent through messages disappear.

While predators invent tactics to avoid prosecution, a victim could have an arrest haunt them for the rest of their life. Ayoub said she was worried employers would discover she had been arrested years after she got out of sex trafficking. She was able to get her records sealed, which made them invisible to the public, landlords and employers.

“When you don’t have to say that you’ve been arrested, when you can build a new life for yourself, it’s a gift,” Ayoub said.

Sara H. Stephan, an attorney at Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada who also participated in the discussion, works to seal juvenile records so their abuse doesn’t follow them. But, Stephan doesn’t typically see victims until the abuse has already occurred.

The conversation after Friday’s screening focused on how to prevent child sex trafficking. Panelists agreed that sexualizing children and glorifying prostitution needs to end.

“Don’t be part of the glorification and the belief system that it’s OK to use people for sex,” Brown said.

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