Las Vegas sex worker's story galvanizes lawmakers' support for harsh penalties for 'johns'

Las Vegas sex worker’s story galvanizes lawmakers’ support for harsh penalties for ‘johns’

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The personal account of a former Las Vegas sex worker halted a hearing in Carson City on Friday as lawmakers listened.

“It is paid rape,” according to testimony by Jessica Kay, who appeared before the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee via a Zoom session. She disputed the idea of a victimless crime.

“For roughly two years of my life I was bought by men, women, married couples, groups — and by every age, race and cultural identity that you can imagine,” she said. “Buyers are people that purchase other people for their own greed and lustful desires.”

Assembly Bill 145 (AB145) targets “johns” — customers who pay for prostitutes — in an effort to reduce prostitution by increasing fines, jail time and possible arrest instead of just a citation for first-offenders. Fines would be raised from $400-$1,000 to a minimum $800 and a maximum of $2,000. An amendment is still being crafted to classify the crime to fit in with other possible options, including a “john school” requirement.

The personal account galvanized lawmakers in support of the legislation.

Former Las Vegas sex worker Jessica Kay appears via a Zoom session during testimony before the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee on Friday in Carson City.

“I want to be very clear when I say that this is not a victimless crime,” Kay said. “It is paid rape. Please understand that buyers are just as abusive as are traffickers. People that are selling their bodies almost never do it freely and if they can escape from this horrific crime they will spend a lifetime trying to recover from the trauma that was inflicted upon them by the hands of other people.”

The ordeal is ongoing.

“I have endured reproductive issues due to the lack of medical care, as well as I have suffered from acute pelvic pain, irregular menstrual cycles,” Kay said.

“I have suffered from nightmares. And I have broken out all the back of my back teeth from the biting down and grinding from the terror that I relive while I sleep,” she said.

Statistics only tell a part of the story of Nevada’s sex trafficking victims. The state ranked second in the nation for human trafficking according to the World Population Review Report, according to Regan Comis, Director of Government Affairs at R&R Partners. “Research in 2018 found that at least 5,016 individuals are sold for sex in an average month in Nevada. What’s important is this figure excludes those who provide sex in licensed brothels,” Comis said.

It was Kay’s story that focused lawmakers’ attention.

“I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. I struggle to trust people, and my self-worth has always been tied to a transaction,” she said. “While I do wish the penalties in AB145 were stiffer for buyers, I do believe it is a step in the right direction.”

The idea that holding buyers accountable is the best way to disrupt sex trafficking drew support from law enforcement agencies including the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff’s office, as well as a lineup of agencies that help victims.

Kay’s story of a “survivor” of sex trafficking prompted open discussion of taking the law further, requiring police to arrest first-offenders rather than just giving them the authority to use the option. There was also discussion of publicly shaming johns through more aggressive efforts to publicize the crimes through media outlets.

“These gentlemen — and I’ll use the word lightly — need the fear of God struck into them,” said Republican Assemblyman Ken Gray, who represents Douglas County and a portion of Lyon County. He suggested requiring serial offenders to register as Tier 1 sex offenders.

And in a state where prostitution is legal in 10 counties — but not Clark and Washoe counties, where most of the population lives — there were other voices in the conversation.

“The demand for human touch will not go away,” according to a woman who testified as a “voluntary sex worker” living in Clark County. “I have never heard any government body be so mistaken about things. I am not a sex trafficking victim. I am not a victim in any way,” she said.

“The work that I do allows for me to pick up my children from school. It allows for me to read to them at night because I’m not working three jobs,” she told lawmakers.

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