LINCOLN (AP) — With the completion of a training manual, an 18-member task force has taken a major step toward determining the nature and extent of human trafficking in Nebraska.
The task force delivered the manual and a report to the state Legislature last week.
Human trafficking occurs primarily in prostitution, pornography, farming and the drug trade, the report said.
Interstate 80 is a major conduit for drug traffic and the sex trade because it connects the nation’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts, said Al Riskowski, a task force member and executive director of the Nebraska Family Council. Prostitutes being shuttled across the country easily can stop and work in North Platte, Kearney, Grand Island and other cities near the Interstate.
But determining the size and nature of Nebraska’s problems is the next step, Riskowski said.
“This is an issue that is often disguised and rarely talked about,” he said.
Riskowski said the task force will define the problem, then employ the manual for training law enforcement personnel and others to help find the traffickers who are preying on people.
Police officers and judges sometimes regard prostitutes as junkies who have chosen to break the law, said State Sen. Amanda McGill, who wrote the bill that led to creation of the task force.
Most of the time, McGill said, there’s a pimp behind the prostitute, who is a victim.
“Nothing can really happen unless we get law enforcement and the judicial system to change how they view the women,” McGill said. “We need law enforcement and the judicial system to learn how to connect with these women and make them feel safe.”
McGill said she plans to introduce legislation that would toughen penalties on the customers who keep the illegal sex trade flourishing.
Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong, who also is on the task force, said that when people hear about human trafficking, “they think that happens in other countries and not here in America, but it does happen here in America.”
Often the victims are runaway teens whom traffickers scoop up off the streets.
Peschong said officers haven’t always dug deeply enough into cases to find out who’s taking advantage of a farmworker or a prostitute or a drug transporter.
That’s where the task force and the training will come in, he said.