Among gaming, tourism and tech, another industry is booming within the shadows in northern Nevada.
A new report from the Human Sex Trafficking Initiative shows that the commercial sex industry is thriving in Reno, which impacts communities from Lake Tahoe to Fernley.
Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick spoke with Crysta Price, one of the researchers on the study, to learn more.
And a word of warning: this interview does contain language that could be considered graphic to some listeners.
KUNR: First, just tell me about the project and what you looked for.
Price: So the Human Trafficking Initiative is a grant-based project. We are a team of data scientists at Creighton University. What we do is we try to find the scope of sex trafficking across the United States and also we look at some policy solutions.
The overwhelming majority of the industry is online and most of that is on Backpage.
And what is Backpage for folks who may not know that?
Backpage is a website that I always describe as a sketchier version of Craigslist. It can be used to advertise let’s say a couch you want to sell. But it’s pretty notorious for its commercial sex industry content.
In the report, it says that sex trafficking is embedded in Reno. Just how embedded is sex trafficking in the Reno area?
What we can say is that the commercial sex industry is very embedded in Reno. Actually looking across nationally, Reno is in the top 6.5 percent, in terms of the per-capital number of individuals that are advertised for sex. And then Nevada itself is the number one state.
What are some policy solutions to help alleviate some of these issues?
There are two main approaches to prostitution policy. One approach is creating more economic opportunities for these individuals, with the understanding that a lot of people they don’t have any other real viable options. And that’s how their pathway into the industry begins. The other main policy focus is to decrease demand, to take away any sort of profit opportunities for third parties to enter.
Focusing on one, it has really perverse outcomes. So if you just focus on creating economic opportunities, those who have other options then or have the ability to leave the industry, that’s great for them. But if you have the same amount of demands, you’ll just see those individuals replaced with trafficked individuals.
On the other hand, if you just focus on the demand, what happens is that the same number of individuals that are in the industry—since a lot of this is survival sex—they don’t really have the option to leave the industry because prices have changed. And so they’ll stay in the industry, and they’re just sort of competing. So it creates a worse and more exploitative environment for those individuals who are still in the industry.
I want to ask you about Lake Tahoe, because that was a point of distinction in this report. Why do you suspect that Lake Tahoe is such a hotbed of this activity?
When we looked that up, Lake Tahoe actually ranked within the top ten percent of cities and towns nationally, which is very significant given that it doesn’t have its own Backpage site. The nearest Backpage site is Reno. So there are enough mentions of Lake Tahoe in these ads to still pull it up to the top ten percent, per-capita, across the U.S.
Now why that’s the case, demand often creates the market and demand is often the result of a lot of males with expendable income, this sort of transient vacation-like experience, that environment where they’re away from home, where it’s in an entertainment-like experience, that can often filter them into purchasing sex in the commercial sex industry.
Crysta Price is the co-director of the Human Trafficking Initiative, which looks at the prevalence of the commercial sex industry.