Human trafficking survivor, sold on Las Vegas Strip for 2 years, aims to change perceptions
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - The fight against human trafficking has grown stronger in recent years, especially in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has started a Human Trafficking Task Force and tougher penalties for those who buy and sell victims are now being considered by state lawmakers.
One woman who was trafficked on the Las Vegas Strip for about two years sat down with FOX5 to share her story in hopes of changing perceptions.
“I was bought by every age, race, cultural identity that you can imagine,” recounted Jessica Kay.
Kay is a survivor, pushing through the life-long physical and emotional impacts of being trafficked and recounting her trauma in hopes of changing hearts, minds and perceptions.
“The shame, the stigma, the victim blaming is really detrimental,” Kay shared.
Her story starts far from Las Vegas. She grew up in a small town in Iowa, but her childhood was not simple.
“I experienced and witnessed a lot of domestic violence and drug addiction,” Kay revealed.
Kay struggled as a teen with thoughts of suicide and escaped her abusive environment by going to community college.
“I still was hurting and looking for love and belonging. When my son was about one, I decided let’s go to Las Vegas,” Kay recalled.
The small-town girl wasn’t prepared for the dangers of big city life.
“I was so naïve, I ended up losing my home, and my car, and my son had to go live with his father. That is when I met my trafficker. He groomed me for a really long time, I didn’t know trafficking or prostitution was a thing and I thought he was my boyfriend,” Kay said.
One night, he forced Kay out of the car and forced her to sell her body, she said.
“It took me about 10 hours that night to meet my $2,500 quota. I was sold on the internet, pimps, bell boys, concierges,” Kay explained.
Kay endured unthinkable abuse from buyers who thought they could do whatever they wanted since they paid for her.
“One of the most pivotal moments and realities that I faced, I was in a hotel room, and I thought I just had one human with me, and he actually had a friend with him,” Kay described.
In 2007, she was arrested for solicitation as part of a sting operation at a major Strip hotel.
“Going to jail actually kind of set me free, but I still was in this really vulnerable and unhealthy space, it took me probably 5 or 6 years to understand that I was a victim,” Kay reported.
Kay was treated as a criminal, taken to jail and forced to pay a $500 fine, she said.
“My self-worth was lost in this. For a long time and through a lot of therapy, I am learning that I can be loved and beautiful and be who I am without a transaction,” Kay asserted.
Kay says victims shouldn’t be prosecuted. If arrested, they should be offered help like emergency housing, job training and therapy.
“Opportunities and pathways out,” Kay suggested. Several years ago, LVMPD started a Human Trafficking Task Force to ensure the protection of victims and prosecution of offenders, focusing on the crime through a victim-centered lens.
Kay is now a social worker and advocates for human trafficking survivors who recently testified before Nevada lawmakers in support of a bill to increase penalties for buyers and sellers.
“In that testimony, I really talked about how this is paid rape. It is not a choice,” Kay contended.
Kay says because prostitution is legal in other parts of Nevada, some tourists don’t know it is illegal in Clark County and Las Vegas.
“You go to have fun and let loose and purchase sex, so we really need to start changing that narrative,” Kay demanded.
Kay says no one even used the term human trafficking back when she was trafficked and that a lot of progress has been made. Still, some survivors may be relucent to seek help, but she says making the decision to face what happened to her has saved her life and why she continues to share her story.
“There is always someone who comes up to you afterwards and says, ‘That was me.’ Sometimes you are the first person they ever told. If I can just be a safe space, it was all worth it,” Kay said.
There is now help in Southern Nevada 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Signs of Hope offers services to those affected by sexual violence and exploitation. Their emergency hotline can be reached at 702-366-1640.
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