Human trafficking happens daily across the state of Nebraska, both in large cities like Omaha and Lincoln, as well as in rural communities. Nebraska is a hot spot for traffickers due to its centralized location in the United States, where trafficking is now estimated to be a $100 billion industry.
Public awareness campaigns and increased surveillance by law enforcement have led the charge against stopping trafficking in Nebraska. However, some innocent parties caught up in the zeal to catch individuals promoting human trafficking have been falsely accused of crimes they didn’t commit.
Adults traveling with minor children who have different last names than their own, such as foster children or children unrelated to them, have been stopped at airports and questioned about their relationship to the children in their care. Providing the appropriate identifying documents can often help clear up misunderstandings, but in some cases, the adult has been charged with trafficking.
If you’ve been wrongly accused of a trafficking crime, contact the attorneys at Berry Law. They can inform you of your rights and help you build a case to defend yourself and protect your freedom.
What is Human Trafficking?
Trafficking occurs when individuals are bought or sold as property and forced against their will to work without wages or to perform sexual acts. Public perception of human trafficking is often much different than reality. Rather than dramatic kidnappings from public places with hostages being taken suddenly against their will, most traffickers groom their victims over long periods of time before engaging them in trafficking.
Traffickers can even be people already known to the victim, such as an intimate partner, parent, or family member. Social media sites are common places for traffickers to find victims. They often operate by slowly building relationships, making connections, and then eventually convincing victims to participate in trafficking activities. The average age for female victims is 15-19 years old, while the average age for male victims is 11. Traffickers sometimes convince their child victims to recruit other minors to participate.
There are two types of human trafficking that can involve either adults or minors: Labor Trafficking and Sex Trafficking. The main difference between the two is based on what is being commercialized and sold. While the penalties for each type of trafficking are the same, sentencing guidelines do differentiate between crimes involving victims over the age of 18 and minors, with crimes involving minors subject to harsher punishments.
Under Nebraska Statute 28-830, Labor Trafficking charges are brought against someone accused of knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining by any means a person 18 years or older, knowing that they will be subjected to forced labor or service without compensation. Even attempting to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide or obtain individuals for this purpose is a criminal offense under Nebraska law.
Traffickers of labor often exploit the fear of undocumented foreign nationals by threatening to reveal their immigration status to authorities. Other methods of control can include lying about a job, its benefits and prospects to lure workers before baiting and switching them, physical force, or other forms of non-physical coercion.
In the state of Nebraska, labor trafficking is a Class II felony, punishable by a mandatory minimum one year prison sentence, with the possibility of up to 50 years in prison. Others who knowingly benefit from or play a role in trafficking labor, such as employers or other participants, are guilty of a Class IIA felony, which carries up to 20 years imprisonment.
Like labor trafficking, the wording of state statute as it pertains to sex trafficking prohibits any person from knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, soliciting, or obtaining by any means a person to engage without consent in commercial sex activity, sexually explicit performances, or the production of pornography. Again, even attempting to engage someone in these activities can invite serious charges and consequences.
Even in situations where a minor proclaims to have consented to acts of sex trafficking, perpetrators are still held to the same standard as if they had trafficked a non-consenting individual because minors are not capable of providing consent under state law.
Instead of commercializing another’s labor, sex trafficking commercializes sexual activity that’s been taken through the use of fraud, force, or non-physical coercion, like blackmail. Victims of sex trafficking often have personal vulnerabilities that make them susceptible to being exploited by traffickers. They are typically young, may have troubled home lives, a history of trauma, and may have run away from home or be homeless. Many kids who are caught up in the foster care and juvenile justice systems have fallen prey to sex trafficking.
The charges for sex trafficking are similar to those of labor trafficking except that the law differentiates between trafficking crimes that involve an adult versus those that involve a minor under 18. Sex trafficking is a Class II felony, but trafficking a minor is a Class IB felony, which carries harsher penalties.
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Signs of Trafficking
Traffickers are skilled at manipulating victims, and many individuals who are being trafficked may not consider themselves to be victims. They may feel loyal to their trafficker because of the relationship they believe they’ve built. Some signs that someone may be a victim of labor trafficking include:
- Talking about owing a large debt to an employer
- Being unpaid for the work they do
- Having an employer who deducts money from their paycheck
- Living and working in the same location
- Being employed by someone who holds control over their personal documents (driver’s license, passport, social security card)
- Unable to leave the job of his or her own accord
- Physical exhaustion due to abnormally long work hours
- Unclear family relationships. For children, there may be evidence that they don’t live with a parent or guardian, sometimes referring to the adults in the home as an aunt or uncle.
- Exclusion from what are typically family events, such as vacation or religious ceremonies
- Seem fearful of the family they live with
- A minor who is responsible for caring for other children or the elderly, or for a disproportionate amount of household cleaning and other chores.
- Not allowed to participate in age-appropriate activities like sports, school dances, etc.
Sex trafficking victims may display the following signs:
- May say he or she is in a relationship with a much older individual
- Has access to expensive clothes
- Suddenly has an expensive cell phone or multiple cell phones, or phones that are prepaid
- A minor who is not enrolled in school or who is frequently truant
- Having frequent and unexplained absences or frequent travel
- Is a minor missing from the foster care system
- In possession of hotel keys or key cards
- Reports a high number of sexual partners for his or her age
- Displays signs of being fearful, anxious, submissive, depressed, tense or nervous
- Seems afraid of social interactions
- Has unexplained signs of injuries or abuse
- Lies about his or her age or uses fake identification
- Telling inconsistent stories about events
- Is unable or unwilling to provide an address or information about guardians
- Displays signs of fear around a particular person
- Has sexually explicit social media accounts and profiles
Common Locations for Trafficking
Large sporting events and concerts hosted in Nebraska make it easy for traffickers to buy and sell sex and labor undetected. Hotel employees are often the first line of defense against trafficking in the state, and many hotel chains have begun training employees to be on the lookout for signs of trafficking.
Guests who seem to have an excessive amount of money or many different credit cards on file, as well as rooms that constantly have the Do Not Disturb sign on the door raise red flags. Other signs can include lubricants and condoms lying around a room.
Human Trafficking & the Law
When trying a human trafficking case, the prosecution must be able to prove that a defendant knowingly participated and attempted to further the trafficking activity. If they are unable to do so, charges may be dropped.
Three conditions must be met to build a case for human trafficking. The prosecutor must show that the act of trafficking occurred, that the defendant had the ability to manipulate an individual into committing the act, and that there was financial gain involved. In cases where one or more of these conditions is missing, conviction is unlikely.
New laws passed in 2019 in the state of Nebraska ended entirely the statute of limitations for child victims to come forward, and extended the statute of limitations for adult victims from three years to five years. Law enforcement is also able to apply for warrants and wiretap the phones of potential suspects, which has increased the number of traffickers who have been caught and charged across the state.
In addition to being charged by the state of Nebraska, defendants in human trafficking cases can also face federal trafficking charges. Claiming that an alleged victim consented when a minor is involved, or that a defendant didn’t know a victim’s real age are not allowable defenses for human trafficking under Nebraska law.