Esther Rodriguez Brown saw panic in the young woman’s eyes. After about 10 years of serving victims of sex trafficking, it is a look she knows well.
Earlier that day, the 19-year-old had escaped her pimp and called a hotline for help. Rodriguez Brown and her east Las Vegas nonprofit, The Embracing Project, agreed to keep the girl safe while another organization arranged to get her home to Minnesota.
Late in the afternoon, the other agency told the girl it would purchase her a Greyhound bus ticket. Rodriguez Brown instantly knew this was a bad idea: bus stations are a prime recruiting spot for pimps.
The girl was wide-eyed with fear. So Rodriguez Brown said she dipped into her own pocket and bought the girl a plane ticket home. “She’s a godsend,” the girl’s aunt, Heidi Rivers, said in a phone interview. “There would be a lot of girls out there looking for answers” if The Embracing Project were not around, she said.
Today, Rodriguez Brown’s nonprofit is a leading advocate for sexually exploited youths in Clark County, which is one of the nation’s hot spots for sex trafficking, experts said. In a strip mall at North Pecos Road and East Charleston Boulevard, Rodriguez Brown and two staff members operate The Center 4 Peace, where teenage victims can drop in at any time, attend school, receive counseling and mentorship, or just hang out in a safe place. The organization serves as many as 300 children a year, Rodriguez Brown said.
The Embracing Project is celebrating its 10-year anniversary Thursday, on the International Day of Peace. In the evening, it will host a silent auction, dinner and ceremony honoring U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and plastic surgeon Dr. Julio Garcia for their work benefiting sexually exploited youths, at the Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
The Embracing Project is founded on what Rodriguez Brown, 48, describes as a John Lennon-inspired commitment to humanitarianism. Unlike other…