Human trafficking stands as one of the world’s most heinous abuses. Vulnerable children and adults are forced into the sex trade and kept under the thumb of their pimp. Nebraska is no stranger to this injustice, and it’s been encouraging in recent years to see the strong cooperative work that a range of leaders and organizations have made to push back against this injustice.
For its work in combating this crime and offering hope to victims, Nebraska received a grade of A in a new report from the group Shared Hope International, with a score of 91 out of a possible 102.5.
Nebraska’s first steps against human trafficking came in 2006 with legislation from then-Sen. Amanda McGill Johnson. In succeeding years, the state has added significant advances, through collaborative action by the Legislature, the Attorney General’s Office and the administrations of Dave Heineman and now Pete Ricketts.
Under legislation from State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln backed strongly by Attorney General Doug Peterson, the state has greatly increased the allowable penalties against pimps and sex-trafficking patrons and strengthened the punishment for trafficking a minor younger than 16. Recent laws protect victims from prosecution for trafficking-related offenses and provide support services.
The Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force, through the Attorney General’s Office, has been energetic in focusing attention and resources on the issue. Training sessions have helped law enforcement, service providers and medical professionals throughout the state better understand the issue and how to address it. Nebraska now has a standard of practice that community nonprofit organizations use to help victims of sexual trafficking.
Nebraska’s latest effort on this front came last year, with legislation to establish a cooperative law enforcement effort to determine the number of missing Native American girls and women in the state. The Nebraska State Patrol is taking the lead in the initiative, working with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal and local law enforcement, tribes and urban Indian organizations. Under the law, introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, those groups will develop a collaborative strategy to address the issue.
Nebraska ranked seventh-highest for cases involving missing or slain Native American women and girls in a recent national study.
Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning has rightly observed: “Research has shown that it’s easier for law enforcement to build trust with victims and obtain information for prosecution when victims feel safe and respected. ... We have made progress through educating our law enforcement community to recognize that the old model of prosecuting human trafficking cases by treating victims as criminal defendants, in order to leverage them into forced cooperation against their traffickers, is ineffective. It also misunderstands the coercive nature of the victimization that occurs in human trafficking.”
Nebraska has done fine work in putting sound practices in place to address human trafficking. The task now is to continue public awareness programs and strengthen the efforts to detect, investigate and prosecute these abuses of vulnerable children and adults.