It’s the second week of January and already an unusual—nay, outré—literary event is scheduled to take place. On Jan. 12, human rights activist and author Aaron Cohen, 45, will be giving a talk and signing copies of his best-selling book Slave Hunter: One Man’s Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking (Simon Spotlight, 2009).
The book’s pages offer a riveting account of how a 6-foot-5 inch former heroin junkie and ex-spiritual adviser to notorious alt-rock band Jane’s Addiction went on to become one of the world’s leading sex-slave liberators. Twenty years ago, as creative director for Jane frontman Perry Farrell, Cohen worked on Lollapalooza, a series of rock concerts that reduced debt for impoverished countries. Cohen eventually cleaned up, found Jesus (and adopted other belief systems such as Kabbalah), wrote a graduate thesis on biblical “jubilee” (the ancient practice of slave liberation and debt forgiveness) and made it his life’s mission to free underage girls sold into sex slavery. He’s freed thousands, by his estimate. He’s determined to free more.
The book opens with a harrowing rescue effort in Cambodia, during which Cohen wins the release of two sisters. Then Cohen’s incredible autobiographical journey, from a suburban wild child to dedicated abolitionist, is deftly chronicled. It’s a dark tale, but with plenty of light at its core.
While in town this week, Cohen says he’ll be meeting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Metro, and local teen shelters to discuss how to combat trafficking in Southern Nevada.
Cohen doesn’t care a whit about Nevada’s libertarian position on prostitution and its legalization here in the state. Cohen maintains he’s against prostitution—legal and illegal—due to the horror of what he’s seen. He insists illegal prostitution flourishes even and especially where the trade is regulated.
“Several human-trafficking activist groups in the area asked me to consult for them, and I received a handful of offers around the same few days,” he explains during a recent phone interview. “So I decided to do a little Vegas tour.”
Cohen just finished consulting for a federal nationwide investigation that involved “legal prostitution as a funnel into sex slavery.” According to Cohen, Las Vegas remains a major trafficking destination. The investigation, which the feds dubbed Operation Cross Country, rescued 70 children, including, Cohen says, several locals.
“Look what happened to organized crime in Vegas,” he says. “They rooted it out, but then they really didn’t, right? Legalized prostitution has been going on there so long it’s crazy. There’s always an increase in crime, slavery and trafficking wherever there’s legalized prostitution. The Amsterdam experiment failed. There’s now an effort in that country to outlaw its best-known industry. Vegas will see this, too.”
Strong words, especially as there’s significant evidence that a regulated industry offers more protection for women (and johns), and keeps kids from being enslaved. But rather than argue the issue over the phone, Cohen emphasizes that his No. 1 priority isn’t to outlaw the industry or prosecute traffickers. His goal is to rescue underage victims of slavery, a task everyone should support.
“Part of the reason I’ll be in town is to help package evidence of trafficking for federal law enforcement. That’s how you get a warrant to go in and save kids who would otherwise die in slavery. There’s momentum worldwide on this issue, and Vegas police and the feds are working hard and finding success.” Not your garden-variety book-signing, that’s for sure.
7 p.m. Jan. 12 at Green Valley United Methodist Church, 2200 Robindale Road, 454-7989.