Part 1: Broken promises, Broken Dreams
Dreams of a glamorous life in Las Vegas have crashed for the girls and young women in YAP’s Clark County (NV) Juvenile Justice Program. Most of the girls are included in the population known as Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC).
"There’s so much heartbreaking negativity in their lives that sometimes you just cry it out at home so you can start the next workday day positively,” says YAP Program Director Daisy Hernandez.
YAP’s two Clark County Programs—Juvenile Justice and a Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Program--serve both males and females. Approximately 70% of referrals to YAP’s JJ Program are girls. Prior to the start of the program a number of years ago, these girls would have been held in a wing of the Detention Center.
The story for most of the girls begins with them being on runaway status or meeting a man through Facebook or other social media. “They’ll meet a man who tells them how beautiful they are, who promises them everything and they fall in love,” Daisy explains.
Girls ages 12 to 13 are prime targets for pimps. “Instead of the wonderful boyfriend they believe they have, they find themselves living with a pimp who sees them as ATM machines,” Daisy says.
Pimps are often as young as 17 or 18 years old although many are in their 20’s or 30’s. “Sometimes it’s a generational thing where a dad is a pimp and the son joins the ‘family’ business,” Daisy says. “It’s a mentality that’s hard to change.”
A typical case history is that the girls end up soliciting on the Las Vegas Strip and East Side where they eventually run into a Vice Detective who arrests them. The detective gets their testimony and tries to find their pimp. To help young girls get the help they need, the Clark County Court amends the soliciting charges to ‘a minor in a gaming establishment’ or ‘trespassing’ resulting in Probation instead of jail time.
Referrals to YAP are approved by Probation and the work of Daisy’s team and multiple community partners begins.
Part 2: The Healing Begins
When YAP first meets them, the girls are often feeling, shamed and hesitant about trusting an agency worker. “We try to make them feel comfortable—we’re positive and non-blaming,” Daisy says. “Then we call the families, meet them and introduce them to YAP and the advocate who will be working with them.”
There is often a degree of tension when families meet the girls after their arrest. Parents often didn’t know what the girl was doing, don’t understand and blame the victim. “It’s often awkward. And sometimes parents have a “just take her and fix her attitude, “Daisy says.
YAP connects staff and resources at the very beginning to get services in place. Girls have multiple physical and mental health needs including STD testing and treatment, pregnancy tests or services for girls already pregnant. Many girls have also experienced severe trauma and require therapy. YAP is involved in the therapy, sometimes attending sessions and often updating therapists.
There are a host of other needs that the Salvation Army and other organizations work in partnership to address. YAP helps with IDs, job interviewing, financial literacy, arrangements for parenting classes and material needs such as clothing and baby items. Girls in the program are succeeding with employers including a hair salon, a bakery and a cultural center and in community service.
Part 3: Keeping Girls Safe and Out of “The Life” for Good
No matter how much they suffered while in “The Life”, some girls are still emotionally tied to their pimps. Triggers such as a hotel can prompt young girls to say “I miss him,” Daisy explains. “They don’t understand that he molded them for his purposes,” she adds. Often there is also justified fear of retaliation by a pimp for girls who are out of his control.
YAP advocates try to keep girls away from places their pimp may be and go with them to grocery stores and other sites in the community.
Since social media is often the source of a girl’s initial meeting with a pimp, Court orders typically prohibit girls from going on social media. This precaution is also necessary to avoid contact with other girls who often recruit for their own pimps. Using non-threatening tactics with the girls, YAP works in partnership with Probation, getting passwords and monitoring social media which sometimes offers clues about who the girl’s pimp is.
When law enforcement arrests pimps, victim impact statements are required. YAP goes to court with the girls and helps them through an often terrifying experience with the pimp present in the courtroom.
Part 4: Bright Spots and Breakthroughs
With each girl, the moment comes that Daisy and her team have waited for. “Once a girl talks about things, has a more adult type of conversation and talks about the future –HER future—we know that we’re making real progress,” Daisy says. Sometimes that growth comes with added responsibilities. “The moment she knew she was pregnant it was almost like she instantly grew up,” Daisy says of one young woman who is now furthering her education and making a new life for herself. “It was incredible to see her—she’s a brand new person.”
This is one of many positive program outcomes that bring joy instead of tears when the YAP team takes their work home with them at night.