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Nevada is second in the nation for human trafficking, and it’s a designation we’re working very hard to lose

This week, a very touching art exhibit opened at Las Vegas City Hall. It’s a series of watercolors, each painted by a different survivor of human trafficking.

“I had given up on life and having any type of hope. I feel like I’m finally living and it’s not so dark anymore.” Those words are printed next to a picture of a sunflower.

Jennifer McQuaid, Director of the Salvation Army’s Seeds of Hope program, works with victims of human trafficking every day. The wall of brightly colored paintings at City Hall includes some of her clients.

McQuaid says, “When victims come in and you just give them a safe place to live, you can physically see them breathe.”

Seeds of Hope is a program within the Salvation Army that began fighting human trafficking ten years ago. Last year alone, it assisted more than 70 women with housing, clothing, referrals, and case management. Going wherever they’re needed. “Through outreach… promoting… hitting the concrete, I’m able to get out there, pass out information… go into homeless encampments, into the tunnels and let victims know we’re here.”

One client named Miriam was living in the tunnels under Las Vegas. It took about two weeks before she trusted McQuaid enough to come in for help. She’s now thriving, all thanks to donations from the community. Including money from the red kettle campaign.

The red kettles are a primary source of fundraising for many Salvation Army programs. “I love to tell people it goes directly to the places we need it,” says Salvation Army Captain Jennifer Bearchell. She says spare change donated each December is the non-profit’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

In 2022 the local goal for the red kettles was $200,000. Sadly, they fell short, collecting $130,000. Bearchell says the economy took a hit, and she understands, and says,” we were ok, we’re manageable.”

Seeds of Hope isn’t fighting alone. Dina Titus says, “I’ve always kind of fought for the underdog,” And the people targeted by traffickers are usually some of our most vulnerable.” Titus has been tackling human trafficking issues her entire career, dating back to her time in the State Legislature.

In Washington Titus helped pass the Secure our Skies Act which requires training for airline industry employees to recognize and report human trafficking. She’s not done yet, and says  “It’s all levels of government, and it’s across the agencies. It’s the courts, the police department, social workers, it’s an all-in effort.”

Sadly, according to World Population Review, Nevada still has the second highest rate of human trafficking per 100-thousand people. The bright lights of the Strip attracts new pimps and panderers every year.

At City Hall there is now some hope in each painting on display.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.

-Carla Rea