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Putting an End to Human Trafficking in Nebraska

Putting an End to Human Trafficking in Nebraska

By Governor Pete Ricketts

January 18, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here

 

The most heinous crimes often target vulnerable members of our society.  To protect our innocent, Nebraska is hard at work to expose human trafficking and root it out of the Good Life.

 

Human trafficking is a despicable crime.  It inflicts severe trauma on its victims and shows a sickening disregard for human dignity.  It’s important that we recognize that human trafficking exists in Nebraska.  It may not be visible in your neighborhood, but it happens across the state and is a scourge in our society. 

 

During my administration, we’ve followed a four-part strategy to combat human trafficking:

 

I. Raising Public Awareness

 

We all have a role to play in looking out for signs of human trafficking, especially at casinos, gas stations, hotels, and rest stops along our traffic corridors.  The Nebraska Department of Transportation has placed posters at all rest areas in Nebraska with the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888).  The posters have a QR code that directs to the Attorney General’s website, where short videos provide information to help viewers identify telltale signs of trafficking. 

 

In addition, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has trained more than 1,800 professionals and State teammates to recognize human trafficking and prevent it from happening to the children and families we serve.  The Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force within the Attorney General’s Office trained over 6,800 people in 2021 alone, focusing on strategic groups like police recruits, staff at Nebraska’s schools, and county attorneys.

 

II. Passing Legislation

 

Passing Nebraska-specific laws has been extremely important because federal trafficking laws only apply to cases that cross state borders.  Prior to the Nebraska Legislature enacting legislation, criminal activity within the state couldn’t be prosecuted as effectively.  Senators across party lines have stepped up to help fix that.

 

  • In 2015, Speaker Jim Scheer championed legislation that allows trafficking victims to seek civil remedy against perpetrators.
  • In 2017, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks sponsored legislation to increase penalties for human trafficking-related crimes.
  • In 2019, Senator Julie Slama brought forward LB 519, which among other provisions, eliminated the statute of limitations for sex trafficking of a minor. 

 

III. Investigating and Prosecuting Crimes

 

Legislation has empowered law enforcement to investigate trafficking and apprehend criminals.  For example, in August law enforcement in Nebraska participated in Operation United Front, a human trafficking investigation spanning 12 states.  As part of the operation, Nebraska law enforcement conducted sex trafficking operations in Scottsbluff, Kearney, and South Sioux City.  It was an all-hands-on-deck effort that included the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, five local police departments, Homeland Security Investigations, and the FBI.  The investigation resulted in more than 100 arrests nationwide, including seven in Nebraska.

 

As these arrests are made, the State prosecutes them to the fullest extent of the law.  In 2021, that included 22 prosecutions in state court.  In many cases, legal victories are years in the making.  After two years of close collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, the AG’s Office helped bring down a major sex trafficking ring in Furnas County in 2021.  Just last month, the lead perpetrator was sentenced to a minimum of 176 years behind bars.

 

IV. Supporting Survivors

 

Gaining a conviction doesn’t mean “case closed” when it comes to trafficking.  Survivors need care, resources, and support after experiencing such profound trauma.  That’s why Nebraska supports providers who help survivors move forward.

 

The State of Nebraska is administering a three-year, $1.5 million federal grant to help children and youth who’ve experienced trafficking.  This money helps support child advocacy centers and health providers across Nebraska who offer crucial care to help those survivors heal.  I’m grateful for the partnership of these agencies to bless and benefit survivors.

 

The fight to end human trafficking requires close cooperation — between state and local governments, agencies like the AG’s Office and State Patrol, local law enforcement, community partners, survivor leaders, and the non-profit community. 

 

If you would like to learn more about the State’s work to prevent and prosecute human trafficking, please visit the Attorney General’s website at ago.nebraska.gov/combating-human-trafficking.  For additional information on how you can help to combat human trafficking, check out the resources available through the Department of Homeland Security at www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/identify-victim.  If you have questions on any other topic, please email me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.  Thank you for stepping up to help with this critical work.