OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It's National Human Trafficking Awareness Week, and officials on both a state and federal level want those in Nebraska to remember that trafficking isn’t just happening in larger, coastal cities.
When one thinks of human trafficking, they may conjure very graphic images of victims being abducted, physically held against their will in some large city like New York or Los Angeles.
But often the ties that bind victims of trafficking are mental and economic, things like addiction and citizenship status. Even in the middle of the country, Nebraska does not escape this form of modern slavery.
“In Nebraska, we may not consider that we’re a traffic corridor, but that’s how a lot of human trafficking happens," Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a press conference on Monday. "Along Interstate 80, at hotels, gas stations and that sort of thing.”
Supervisory Special Agent John Hallock, with the Human Trafficking Squad of the FBI's Omaha office, says victims of trafficking are often rotating into Omaha at places like spas and hotels. During events like the College World Series, the FBI sees an even higher number of victims enter the area as the city’s population grows.
But one of the more common places to see victims recently is online.
“Unfortunately with our pandemic, with COVID-19, what we’re seeing is people don’t stop using the internet," Hallock said. "They sit in their home, in privacy, and still make the contacts, especially predators, looking for this kind of illegal activity.”
While tackling trafficking has been done on the federal level for many years, the state of Nebraska has really only been able to prosecute trafficking crimes that occurred within state lines since 2015 according to Attorney General Doug Peterson.
“The Nebraska legislature did the hard work of getting the legislation passed," Peterson said. "We’re now in the process of prosecuting those cases, and with significant penalties if we’re successful.”
Other legislation has made it possible for victims to seek justice in civil court, increased penalties for trafficking and extended the statute of limitations for charging crimes against children.Learn how to spot the signs of human trafficking.