Written by, Shelby Ostrand
January 23rd, 2017
Being a junior Human Services major I thought I had seen everything what my major had to offer but I was wrong. For interterm, this year my college, Midland University, offered a class called Human Trafficking. What I learned in this class changed my life forever.
My class was taught by Anna Brewer, a former FBI agent who worked in anti-trafficking for years. She opened my eyes to human trafficking in the Midwest. I learned so much in such a brief time! She taught about how certain vulnerabilities might make people more susceptible to being trafficked and the warning signs of someone currently being trafficked.
The people most at risk for being trafficked are men, women, or children that are impoverished, in state custody, youth out of care, youth with a history of sexual abuse, or are homeless. Other vulnerabilities that might lead to traffickers targeting individuals could be language barriers, intellectual and/or development disabilities, members of LGBTQ community, substance use/addiction, people that perform in strip clubs and/or porn, or mental health issues. It does not matter gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or income. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
More people are unaware of how big a problem sex trafficking is today. It is a billion dollar industry and growing. In the state of Nebraska alone, there is an average of 900 sex workers PER MONTH. Broken down, that is 675 in Omaha, 200 in Lincoln, 65 in Grand Island, 15 in North Platte, and 10 in Scottsbluff on average per month. Considering the population of Nebraska, that is a lot of trafficked people. I have included a heat map below, provided by Creighton Human Trafficking Initiative Crysta Price and Dr. Terry Clark. On the map, every time someone is sold for sex, the spot gets more red. I have included a statewide view of the heat map and one that shows Omaha broken down into different neighborhoods.
Hotel and motel workers were taught the warning signs of potential trafficking victims. A sign could be just an older man or woman coming in with young girls or boys, or a group of girls. Granted, not every older person with a group of younger people is trafficking, but the signs when they go to check in should set off more red flags. These signs include someone coming in with very little luggage or a weekend bag, the person and/or people being trafficked look very uneasy, kind of afraid, often won’t look anyone in the eye. If you hear one of them call if it’s a male, the older person “Daddy” that’s often a sign of him being their pimp. Housekeeping was also taught signs to tip them off that someone is in the dangers of trafficking. These signs include a lot of phone/hotel cards, excessive condoms and other things in wastebaskets, an abundant use of towels, a lot of different people going to the same room every half hour or so, and even a script that is used to talk to potential customers. Hotel/motel staff were also taught that if they see any of these signs, to not approach the victim and ask if they are being trafficked because it could lead to violence against the victim from their pimp. The proper procedure is to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888, or 911 to protect the victim. Hotel/motel workers were taught to be observant everywhere they go because all too often these crimes aren’t happening in back alleys or hidden away, they are happening in plain sight, you just need to know what you are looking for.
Once someone is rescued from trafficking, there’s a lot of recovering and healing that needs to take place. That’s where Rejuvenating Women comes in. Rejuvenating Women is a faith-based, non-profit organization committed to providing hope and restoration to those enslaved in human trafficking. They provide a program called, Restored Wings which is currently a day program and will eventually be a full-time residential program. Rejuvenating Women is committed to developing relationships with the survivors and providing support in their restoration process. The Restored Wings trauma aware program addresses the survivors’ physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, while also teaching life skills. Rejuvenating Women works to empower every survivor of trafficking to live a healthy, independent life.
Sex trafficking has become a huge public issue in the last few years. Awareness has spread as people are willing to share their story and educate others on the travesty that is happening across not only the United States but around the world. Even though many have fought to end it, sex trafficking is still happening. Now it is our turn to help. I implore you all to go out and educate others, it doesn’t need to be by giving a speech to an audience but it could be by telling a friend, writing to a local legislator, posting about it on social media, or even volunteering for places like Rejuvenating Women.
The time to end human trafficking is now.
Written by, Shelby Ostrand