October 8, 2020

The Stories of the Survivors Represented in Charleston v. State of Nevada

Bekah Charleston survived.

Bekah grew up in Keller, Texas, as the youngest of six children. She comes from a good home and her parents have been married for 57 years. As a little girl, Bekah loved soccer, school, and cheerleading and she looked forward to going to church every week with her family.

But that all changed after a horrible event occurred when she was just 14 years old. It was at that young age that Bekah was the victim of a rape and her life turned upside down. She felt immense shame and refused to tell anyone about the sexual assault as she blamed herself for the crime that was committed against her. To cope, she turned to drugs and began acting out. At the age of 17, she ran away. This was the beginning of a period in her life where the street was her home.

Bekah’s “rescuer” was a man in his twenties aspiring to be a musician—or at least that was his story. He promised to take care of her and, being young and vulnerable, she bought all of his lies. Her “rescuer” became her boyfriend and he proceeded to incrementally establish absolute control over every aspect of her life. She moved in with him and was introduced to a cycle of copious drug consumption, including hallucinogens, which turned her life into a confused blur. Then came the punching, the kicking, and the beatings. But, as is similar for many victims of abuse, Bekah thought he loved her.

Eventually—like she was a product to be sold, bought, and consumed—Bekah’s boyfriend-turned-trafficker moved her to Nevada where the state has legalized prostituting women in various counties and sex trafficking is openly practiced. (In fact, Nevada’s own tourism board advertises the state’s legalization of the brothel culture to promote sex tourism.) Her boyfriend-turned-trafficker trafficked her to Las Vegas and placed her in one of Nevada’s most “famous” brothels. Held as a virtual captive in the brothel, Bekah wasn’t permitted to turn down any sex buyer for fear of being kicked out and beaten by her trafficker. Any money she made was paid directly to her trafficker. During that time, she was also trafficked through “escort” agencies in Las Vegas.

Thankfully, after 10 years of sexual servitude, Bekah escaped with the help of a church and federal authorities—though she remained terrified of her trafficker who threatened to kill her.

Although Bekah will struggle with a lifetime of triggers from the complex trauma, indescribable violence, and sexual abuse that she suffered, she now leads national efforts to prevent the very type of exploitation that she endured and to help women exit these abusive situations.

Charleston Seeks to Hold the State of Nevada Accountable

With Charleston v. State of Nevada, Bekah is also taking her efforts to court. Bekah is suing the state of Nevada which created, promoted, and advertised the environment that made her abuse possible and made itself a magnet and market for trafficking women. The unquenchable demand created by Nevada’s sex tourism industry requires more and younger women each year to satisfy the hunger of commercial sex buyers. Many girls, including Bekah and the other plaintiff in this case, have been and are brought to Nevada across state lines against their volition.

By bringing women across state lines for purposes of prostituting them, perpetrators are directly violating a federal law called the Mann Act. Their actions also violate tough federal anti-trafficking laws. Yet Nevada’s legalization and well-publicized promotion of prostitution induces and, indeed, encourages pimps and traffickers to bring their stock and trade—young women—across state lines to Nevada to be trafficked and sold in legal brothels in Las Vegas, where many wrongly believe prostitution is legal, as well as other sordid locations. This produces an economic engine that inexorably feeds on the broken lives of the young girls trafficked into a veritable market of flesh.

Federal anti-trafficking laws are predicated on the Thirteenth Amendment’s ban on involuntary servitude that was enacted after the Civil War. It prohibited the states from re-establishing new forms of servitude through abusive economic and social manipulation of the poor, the desperate, and the destitute. Yet this is precisely what Nevada has done in legalizing and aggressively promoting a prostitution scheme that entraps and consumes vulnerable girls. At bottom, it commodifies women for sale and preys on the most vulnerable and economically helpless young, like Bekah, into a life of sexual abuse and predation.

Bekah Charleston is asking the Court to redress the harms inflicted upon her—and countless others—and to put an end to the conflict between federal laws, which ban interstate prostitution and trafficking, and Nevada’s laws which legalize and encourage it.

Header of the Nevada is Not Safe for Women website: NotSafeForWomen.com
Learn More and Find Ways to Support This Survivor-led Lawsuit

Angela Delgado-Williams is also a survivor with a story that is similar to Bekah’s. Angela was prostituted through a sex trafficking ring pretending to be a legal escort service. Like Bekah, she was lured, abused, raped, and tightly controlled. She was trafficked in Las Vegas, a city where most sex buyers incorrectly believe that prostitution is legal in all of Nevada. Any money she earned went straight to her trafficker. Angela, like Bekah, is seeking some degree of justice from a state legal scheme that trades in the grinding up and using of young girls until they are discarded or dead.

More information—backed by research—about the increased sexual abuse and exploitation taking place in Nevada as a direct result of their current laws on prostitution can be found here. In summary, research has found the following to be true:

  • Legalized prostitution in Nevada has led to a massive illegal sex industry in the state.
  • Legal prostitution fuels and increases sex trafficking.
  • Legal prostitution increases child sex trafficking.
  • Even when it is legalized, it is impossible to disentangle violence and exploitation from prostitution.
  • Legalized prostitution in Nevada has failed to protect women from sexual exploitation, violence, or psychological trauma.

Complaint Summary

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring Nev. Rev. Stat. 201.354(1), Nev. Rev. Stat. 244.345(8), and the ordinances of Elko, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Storey, and White Pine Counties, licensing brothels unconstitutional, null, and void as preempted by federal law; and, a preliminary and permanent injunction be issued prohibiting the State of Nevada and all of its political subdivisions from continuing to implement, enforce, or put into force and effect Nev. Rev. Stat. 201.354(1) and Nev. Rev. Stat. 244.345(8). Additionally, the lawsuit also requests an order for the State to create and fund a “Nevada Sex Trade Exit Fund” to provide mental health services, rent assistance, job training, scholarships, and funding for medical treatments for women prostituted through Nevada’s legal brothels.   The complaint asserts that, under the cover of Nevada law legalizing prostitution, brothels, brothel owners and operators, and the women bought and sold in brothels for sex, actively and intentionally persuade, induce, entice, and coerce men and women to travel in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution by advertising and marketing brothels and the sale of people for sex to individuals outside the State of Nevada through hundreds of websites, social media accounts, and other mass media.  The complaint also states that, by giving the sex trade legal cover in Nevada, the State has enabled sex trafficking.

Read the original complaint and the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Further Reading