Alleged sex trafficking survivors say Nevada violated Constitution's slavery ban: lawsuit
Two alleged sex trafficking survivors are suing the state of Nevada arguing that it violated the 13th Amendment by facilitating and benefiting from illegal sex trade in the state.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which is bringing the suit on behalf of alleged survivors, is asking a district court to declare unconstitutional state and local laws legalizing prostitution.
"Nevada’s legal prostitution system has inherently contributed to the sex trafficking of these plaintiffs for both the benefit of sex buyers who flock to Nevada and for the profit of Nevada and its tourism industry," said Christen Price, senior legal counsel at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
The state had four new federal sex trafficking prosecutions in 2020, according to NCOSE.
An NCOSE victory could create potential problems for other state laws on prostitution, although the lawsuit presents the situation in Nevada as particularly egregious.
Part of NCOSE's argument rests on the idea that legalized prostitution tends to correlate with an increase in sex trafficking.
Studies from the London School of Economics (2013) and Harvard University (2014) also found that countries with legal prostitution tended to see higher levels of human trafficking.
NCOSE's suit alleges that Nevada brothels knowingly employed trafficking victims and engaged in coercive activities such as preventing prostitutes from leaving the premises.
State and county authorities, they argue, benefited from the jurisdictions' "reputations as legal havens for sex."
Nevada, however, is the only state where prostitution is legal.
The University of Nevada in Las Vegas previously reported that the state was tied for ninth in sex trafficking in the U.S. with 199 cases in 2017.
"When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers can press for safer working conditions and use the justice system to seek redress for discrimination and abuse," the group says.