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Human Trafficking Impacts Every Community

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Human trafficking investigations in Nebraska (Graphic courtesy of Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force)

March 28, 2022
(Angella Arndt – NSN News)

Part two in a five-part series on the undisguised realities of human trafficking.

You might think that human trafficking occurs primarily in large cities. Would it surprise you to know that it happens in every state, including small communities across Nebraska?

According to the U.S. Department of State, about 25 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time. Victims are adults and children of all ages with different backgrounds, nationalities and immigration statuses.

Helpless young girls, run-away teens, lost young women, abused boys and young men, and vulnerable, desperate women suffer in the clutches of manipulating, wicked and criminal elements.

Human trafficking may bring sex trafficking to mind because that is what most people hear about in the news. Sex trafficking is one form of human trafficking, and it is the most reported and prosecuted. However, the evils of human trafficking take many forms, primarily concentrated in two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

Sex trafficking is when a person is forced, coerced, or frauded, without their consent, into engaging in a commercial sex act. In Nebraska, this includes sexual contact, erotic dance, or the production of pornography. What makes the sex act commercial is when something of value, such as money, lodging, food, or drugs, is given in exchange for the act. The difference between sex trafficking and child sex trafficking is the victim's age, and child sex trafficking is when a victim is under 18, regardless of consent.

Labor trafficking is when a person is coerced to work, often through the use of force or physical threats. Psychological tactics or abuse of the legal process may be used. For example, debt bondage is when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt that they may not be able to repay. Domestic servitude is when a person is abused, underpaid, or cannot leave employment, all in a private residence. Forced child labor is when children are forced to work for a non-family member for financial benefit and cannot leave.

Reliable statistics are difficult to obtain. The nature of trafficking, difficulty identifying victims, reluctance of victims to come forward, and complications of sharing information among governmental and other service entities make this problematic.

The shadowy and transient environment of the ongoing abuses involved in trafficking makes detecting, arresting and prosecuting cases arduous. It takes significant time, investigation, commitment in law enforcement labors and communal resources.

Nebraska passed its first human trafficking law in 2006 and prosecuted its first case under this law in 2012. Nebraska’s Attorney General started a Human Trafficking Task Force in 2015. To date, 79 human trafficking cases have been prosecuted, the majority of those in the last six years. Glen Parks, Assistant Attorney General and Coordinator of the Task Force, attributes the increase in prosecutions to the collaborative efforts of Task Force partners across the state. “Our mission is to end human trafficking in Nebraska. Our goals are to find trafficking, stop it, and recognize each victim. Everything we do on the Task Force is directly or indirectly related to one of those goals.”

The statistics provided by the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force do not include cases prosecuted federally. Human trafficking cases usually involve more than one type of crime, and the statistics also do not include trafficking cases in which the offender was prosecuted for another crime. So, the number of human trafficking cases is higher than recorded.

The state prosecuted its most significant sex trafficking case last year in which a male human trafficker from Oxford, was convicted for sex trafficking a minor. He was sentenced to a minimum of 176.5 years in prison. At least 18 other men have been charged in connection with this ongoing case. Also last year, an unrelated case in Brainard, a town with 420 people, resulted in a sex-trafficking prosecution.

How can you recognize a potential sex trafficking victim? The Task Force has identified several signs. These include having expensive clothes or things a person wouldn't usually be able to afford, large amounts of cash, and unusual or frequent travel. Commercial sex is generally a cash business and often happens in hotels. A person having multiple hotel key cards may be cause for concern.

There are other signs specific to children. These include a considerably older boyfriend or girlfriend unknown to parents and school friends, frequent unexplained absences from school, and tattoos. Some traffickers use tattoos or branding to show ownership. This branding is part of the psychological control to dominate the victim. They manipulate them into thinking they’re nothing more than a way to earn money for the trafficker. When the same person is trafficking multiple victims, the victims may have the same tattoo. Children missing from care, or runaways, are at a significantly higher risk of being trafficked. These children are easier targets for traffickers to exploit without drawing too much attention.

Signs of labor trafficking may include owing a large debt, low or no wage, inappropriate wage deductions, unnecessarily high security measures, inability to freely quit their job and living or sleeping at work. Foreign nationals are often victims of this type of trafficking and may be prevented from accessing their identification documents such as a passport.

Human trafficking victims are often hidden from view. However, there are times they may be right in front of you. If each of us learns what to look for, we can help potential victims by reporting suspicious activity. -30-

If you suspect human trafficking and are not law enforcement, do not confront the trafficker. Doing so could put you and the victim in danger. If a trafficker thinks you suspect them, you may jeopardize law enforcement's ability to investigate the situation further and help the victim. If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 911. If you suspect trafficking, but it is not an emergency, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at (888) 373-7888. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The organization received over 10,500 reports of suspected trafficking situations and identified over 16,000 victims in 2020 alone.

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