Sex trafficking not far from home

Sex trafficking is closer to home than many might like to believe.

Every 30 seconds, another person becomes a victim of human trafficking. 

Labeled as modern-day slavery, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

Two human trafficking specialists from North Platte delivered a presentation to Grant Rotarians last week on sex trafficking in Nebraska. 

Tanya Roberts-Connick, chief deputy county attorney in Lincoln County, leads the western region of the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force, which is based out of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

LeeAnn Neilsen is the human trafficking specialist for the Salvation Army’s Fight to End Trafficking (SAFE-T) in North Platte. She serves 34 counties in western Nebraska. 

Neilsen said the task force goals are to recover victims, reduce the market and stop traffickers. 

“So basically, by recovering victims, and arresting those who are buying commercial sex, we’re hoping to stop those who are trafficking individuals,” she said. 

Sex trafficking, unlike prostitution, is not voluntary or consensual. It can happen to all ages and genders. Neilsen noted girls ages 14-17 are the most popular in Nebraska, in terms of what buyers in the market look for. 

She said she’s worked with individuals up to age 50 who have been victims of trafficking, but they are usually “kicked to the curb,” so to speak, in their late 20s. 

Stopping a growing industry

Human trafficking is generating $1 billion a year, and quickly growing, second only to drug trafficking.

Once drugs are sold, they’re gone. Traffickers can sell their victims over and over again, and the risk of getting caught is much lower. 

The primary hub for buying and selling takes place online. 

Neilsen said their “John Operations” have been the most successful, which involve setting up fake profiles of girls advertising themselves. 

While they have had success busting buyers (Johns), Roberts-Connick said recovering the victims is difficult because many of them refuse help. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including being scared of, in love with or brainwashed by their “pimps.” 

On April 11, President Donald Trump signed SESTA/FOSTA into law, which shutdown websites selling commercial sex. SESTA stands for Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and FOSTA stands for Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.

Neilsen said while that’s a wonderful thing, it has negatively affected the teams trying to recover victims by using those sites. 

Traffickers and victims

Traffickers operate on power and control. They prey on vulnerabilities such as bad home lives, poverty, substance abuse, poor mental health, developmental delays and others. 

If victims are not already addicts, traffickers will often make them addicts to gain more control. 

Traffickers are not always strangers. It can be a husband trafficking his wife, or a mother trafficking her child. Some traffickers have recruiters. 

False promises also draw in victims. Traffickers promise young women modeling careers, and before the victims know it, they’re expected to do things nobody would want to be doing. 

There are at least 20 different websites that teach how to be a pimp. Pimpology: The 48 Laws of the Game by Pimpin’ Ken (Ken Ivy), can be purchased at most major book retailers. 

“If you can’t find a weakness, you have to create one. You have to tear someone’s ego down enough before they start looking to you for salvation,” quotes the book from Law 5: Prey on the Weak. 

Neilsen stressed that people do not have to be vulnerable to be victimized.

Roberts-Connick said she knows there’s a lot of concern that someone is going to pull up and just grab a girl off the street. She said while that can happen, traffickers like to fly under the radar and do not want publicity. 

“I don’t think any trafficker in their right mind, wants to kidnap a girl and have it on every news page and have everyone looking for that person,” she said. 

At a training Roberts-Connick attended, a trafficker said he picks up girls by walking the mall and targeting the ones who will talk to him. 

Popular sites for trafficking occur along the interstate, in large agricultural or migrant populations and at big events such as the state fair.  

One in three runaways will be approached by a trafficker within 72 hours. 

Trafficking in Nebraska 

In 2016, the Heider College of Business at Creighton University in Omaha completed a study for the Human Trafficking Initiative using backpage.com, a trafficking website that has since been shut down. 

The study showed that in Nebraska, 900 individuals were sold for sex every month, often multiple times. The state had an active online commercial sex market, where individuals were advertised a minimum of once a week.

While the majority of that number were individuals on the east side of the state, the average number of individuals sold per month in North Platte was 15.

“We have it right in our backyard. It’s here,” said Neilsen. 

To view the study, click here

For more information on sex and/or labor trafficking or to get help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or visit www.HumanTraffickingHotling.org. 

The Grant Tribune-Sentinel

308-352-4311 (Phone)
308-352-4101 (Fax)

PO Box 67
327 Central Ave in Grant
Grant NE 69140