Human trafficking becoming a major problem -- and how you can help

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Human trafficking is becoming a serious problem in the US -- and right here in the metro.
Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 10:21 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Human trafficking may not be what you think it is.

“Human trafficking can look like a lot of different things,” said Teresa Davidson, co-founder and CEO of Chains Interrupted. “It can look like domestic violence. It can look like prostitution. It can look like smuggling, smuggling often turns into trafficking, and a lot of times people don’t understand the differences.”

Both Iowa and Nebraska have dedicated human trafficking task forces, and as resources grow, states and the federal government are making progress -- with an 85% increase in human trafficking convictions over the last decade.

“We see the result,” said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. “I see it in my communities, and so we’re saying enough is enough.”

In 2018, the Omaha Police Department’s Child Victim Unit identified 1,600 youngsters -- with no history of legal or child welfare trouble -- as at-risk.

Since then, collaboration in the metro has concentrated efforts to better identify possible trafficking victims, mostly underage girls, and create pathways out.

“We started a program last November to help them with these,” said Colleen Roth, senior director of response services with Project Harmony. “We hired anti-trafficking youth specialists that will actually reach out to these youth when they’re missing, go meet them in the community wherever they’re at, be very consistent, very caring with these youth. I think a lot of misperception about these kids...these are kids that didn’t really have a solid upbringing and didn’t have that one person that cared about them.”

It’s safe to say that many of us here in the U.S. had no idea of the magnitude of human trafficking. The Metro alone has staggering numbers.

“They identified over 500 girls that have real signs of sex trafficking, being at-risk or being trafficked, Roth said.

Roth said educating the public about warning signs is critical.

“If you think it looks unusual that this older gentleman is with this younger teen, don’t be afraid to report that,” Roth said. “Providing that information can only help further build that case or provide information that might actually help them rescue a girl from the situation.”

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. There are local workshops to help parents better protect their kids and tips on how you can identify human trafficking.