A Human Trafficking Task Force has been formed in Nebraska to fight what Attorney General Doug Peterson sees as a growing threat.
“One of things that our office has heard and many of the people who have been involved in this movement for a long time have heard is, ‘Is it really happening in Nebraska?’” Peterson tells reporters during a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda.
Peterson says human trafficking is a real problem in Nebraska and the state simply has not taken steps to stop it.
“On a national level, when each state is evaluated as to what they have done with regards to human trafficking, Nebraska has historically rated fairly low,” according to Peterson.
Nebraska has received a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Justice not just to fight human trafficking, but to serve its victims. The majority of the grant, $900,000, will go to the Salvation Army which for years has provided services for those caught up in human trafficking. The balance of the money will go the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s office and the Salvation Army will work together to help the task force do its work.
Peterson says the state law creating the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force targets both sex and labor trafficking.
“The legislation and the effort is both in the labor area and sex trafficking and they’re really obviously two different operations, but they both have the element of what I’m going to refer to as slavery,” Peterson says.
Most human trafficking in Nebraska, according to Peterson, revolves around the sex trade, often trapping teenage girls in prostitution. Though women of all ages can become victims of human trafficking, the vast majority are young girls with the task force initially focusing on girls 17 years of age or younger.
Peterson says the task force will shift the focus of law enforcement away from the victim.
“The old model was if someone was arrested in a hotel for prostitution and it was a 16-year-old, our criminal system seemed to focus more on the 16-year-old under a prostitution concept,” Peterson says. “The fact of the matter is, on the business model, we should be going after the trafficker and the consumer.”
A recent FBI sting in the Omaha area took 21 people into custody and recovered two underage victims of human trafficking. It was part of a national effort called “Operation Cross Country.”
AUDIO: Attorney General Doug Peterson holds news conference announcing formation of Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. [22 min.]