#SaveOurChildren: What does human trafficking look like in Nebraska?
OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The issue of human trafficking is receiving national attention on social media through hashtags like #saveourchildren. Here in Nebraska, officials say cases of children being trafficked happen all across the state, and lately that abuse seems to growing in virtual spaces.
Since 2015, the prosecutors in Nebraska have brought 50 cases of human trafficking to court, 30 of which involved child victims. While there are larger operations that bring victims through Nebraska during larger events like the College World Series, its not just cities like Omaha that see trafficking.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, whose office oversees the Human Trafficking Task Force, says sometimes a victim is trafficked in several small towns throughout the more rural part of that state.
“That would be an example where the federal authorities may not want to expand their resources on a town in Nebraska less than 1,000 people, but we can certainly spend our resources,” Peterson said. “And now we have laws comparable to the federal laws where we can give significant penalties against a human trafficker.”
Just in Douglas and Sarpy counties, 80 to 100 children go missing a month, according to advocates at Project Harmony. While many are recovered, the center’s executive director, Gene Klein, says children being trafficked is fairly common.
“It’s a fair number- probably five a month now- that we’re seeing where the children were actually sold,” Klein said. “There was an exchange of money or items in exchange for sex with young children.”
Klein said oftentimes teachers are the ones to report signs of abuse and the center is hoping this continues while virtual learning occurs.
“There will be this continued connection of teachers and other adults,” Klein said. “That door we believe, physically may not be opened, but the connection is still going to be there with those children.”
And with more people online, more child pornography – another form of trafficking – is being reported.
“On an average month, they would get 700,000 tips that would be sent into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” Klein said. “In the month of April and May, that number jumped to 2.4 million tips.”
Another area of concern is Native American reservations, with nearly 500 cases of missing Indigenous women or children in Nebraska.
“When this office was doing work in the area of Whiteclay, that was one of the concerns of information,” Peterson said. “We were looking at not only the alcohol issue in Whiteclay, but also knowing that young women off the reservation could possibly be trafficked, and that’s one of the things we tried to investigate.”
While human trafficking does still occur in Nebraska, the state now ranks at an ‘A’ when it comes to response and prosecution.
Learn more about the reality of human trafficking in Nebraska, as well as ways to spot possible victims here.