SPARKS — The Alliance For Victims’ Rights (AVR) is a network of local agencies and community members working to encourage and enhance ongoing development and coordination of victim services throughout northern Nevada.
That’s their mission.
But bringing this mission to fruition takes more than just heart and passion, although these are essential components. It also requires training, and that’s what a group of AVR members got this week at the Crisis Call Center in Sparks.
Tiffany Short, a victim specialist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was on hand to teach these members about what to look for when dealing with victims of sex trafficking and what to know about the health, financial and other consequences associated with these survivors, as many prefer to be called.
“We all know Nevada is a major destination for sex trafficking,” Short said.
That’s because prostitution has been legalized in parts of the Silver State, contributing to more violence against women, victim advocates said.
“This state has pimped out these girls,” said Melissa Holland, president of the nonprofit Awaken, Inc.
Short said girls who are being sex trafficked can often be identified by a number of criteria, including their clothing, whether they carry false identification, tell contradicting stories about their life or whether they carry a tattoo or ‘branding’ of their pimps’ name.
During the training session, Holland presented several studies that correlate legal prostitution with increased incidents of drug abuse, homelessness and mental health issues among women in the commercial sex industry.
Moreover, Holland pointed to a Swedish model, which fights demand for prostitution by targeting ‘johns’ and making it illegal to buy sex but not sell it.
She believes this is the next best thing to prohibiting prostitution all together.
“I think it’s time we have a voice that says we’re not going to stand for this anymore,” Holland said.
But combating prostitution and sex trafficking is no easy feat when popular culture routinely glorifies the subjugation of women, advocates said.
For example, the word ‘pimp’ has become synonymous with ‘cool,’ as evidenced by television shows like MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” in which unsuspecting Joe’s have their old, beat-up cars get a makeover.
Victim advocates identified what they called the Four P’s necessary to combat prostitution and sex trafficking: punishment, protection, prevention and partnership.
“We want to do something and not just talk about it,” Holland said.
To that end, AVR hosts candlelight vigils and memorials to bring victims, the family members of victims and the community together for healing, remembrance and to spread awareness of victims’ rights.
Of course, knowledge is most powerful when it comes to fighting the exploitation of women and young girls.
“We need more training,” said Kari Ramos, an outreach director with the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence who also spearheads AVR. “We need more education.”
For more information on AVR and how to become a member, visit www.allianceforvictimsrights.com.
The Crisis Call Center operates a hotline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to serve victims and survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking. The number is 1-800-273-8255 or 775-784-8090.
The hotline is also available for any one in any type of crisis and is widely regarded for its suicide prevention efforts. The Center also operates a Sexual Assault Support Services program. For more information, visit www.crisiscallcenter.org.