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Victoria Preciado drives an RTC bus in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Officials say public transportation systems can be key points for identifying victims of human trafficking — and a new $160,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration aims to raise awareness of the practice in the Las Vegas area.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) will use the grant money to create a training program to increase bus drivers’ and customer service representatives’ awareness of the signs of human trafficking, designate safe places for victims to receive assistance and create a “safe haven” where victims can access emergency housing, medical and behavioral health care support and victim advocacy. 

“Traffickers often take advantage of the anonymity that public transportation systems provide to move victims and conduct illegal activities,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement from the RTC. “This funding will help both RTC of Southern Nevada employees and public transit riders around Las Vegas identify victims, deter traffickers and reduce crime.”

Nevada is ranked seventh in the number of trafficking cases reported by phone to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to the RTC press release. The hotline has received more than 2,200 calls from Nevada since 2007, of which 1,200 victims have been identified. 

The grant money will also be used for a public awareness campaign next January, during National Human Trafficking Awareness month. 

“We believe this campaign will lead to more human trafficking victims being identified, found and brought to safety,” CEO MJ Maynard said in a statement. 

The campaign will include information posted inside the buses, notifications at transit shelters and facilities and informational brochures at RTC properties. 

RTC spokeswoman Catherine Lu said public transportation is a good place to combat human trafficking because the training will raise awareness not only in public transportation personnel, but passengers, too.

The total project cost is $200,000, with the additional $40,000 coming from local funds. 

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