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AP/Kimberly Smith (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Traffic jam

Trafficking | A national report aims to gridlock the domestic sex trafficking of children in Las Vegas and across the country

Former congresswoman Linda Smith knows how to tell a story. And when that story weaves through the lives of victimized children, her narrative skill quickens all the more. An underlying force of rage and horror pierces the pages of Smith's forthcoming book, Renting Lacy. In it, she compresses 12 years of accrued knowledge on domestic sex trafficking into riveting accounts of the girls, the pimps, and the johns that make up this silent industry.

If Smith has her way, it will be silent no more. The founder and director of Shared Hope International released findings Friday from an extensive national study meant to flood light into a very dark societal blight. The 91-page report uncovers the realities of child trafficking in 10 U.S. locations. With almost 300 interviews, firsthand reporting, and statistical data collected over two years, the document gives teeth to the consensus estimate that some 100,000 American children are victimized in prostitution every year.

Smith's report uncovers disturbing patterns in the approach to dealing with the problem-namely, a pervasive misidentification of the victims as criminals and a gross lack of public services or systems to help rescued children heal. Chief among the offending cities, Las Vegas serves as a national center for domestic trafficking. Overwhelmed by the hundreds of children sent to the streets each night, law enforcement officials often are left with little choice but to arrest the victims. The 226 minors adjudicated for child prostitution over a recent two-year span spent an average of 16 days in juvenile detention facilities.

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In an effort to publicize such findings, Shored Hope International will lead a three-mile march through the Las Vegas Strip Friday evening, culminating in a candlelight vigil. "This is not just about Las Vegas," Smith said. "This is just one of the places that failed, and it's a bad place that failed. But it's about our nation."

Indeed, organizers around the country will hold similar events, all aimed at drawing attention to the national report. The Las Vegas rally headlines the effort. "We identified nearly 1,500 children and where they came from, their arrest date, how old they were, whether they were being pimped, and what state and city they were from. We're going to have people stand for children that could not, because they were being sold behind closed doors in Las Vegas. Somebody needs to stand for them."

Somebody needs to stand for Tonya, one of several victims interviewed in the report: "I always felt like a criminal. I never felt like a victim at all. Victims don't do time in jail, they work on the healing process. I was a criminal because I spent time in jail. I definitely felt like nothing more than a criminal."

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