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Light of awareness shines in shadows of the crowd

Published: May. 5, 2017 at 1:09 PM CDT
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When major events come to Omaha, one of the spotlights turns to the darkness that big crowds can draw. The stage is set to raise awareness of human trafficking.

People attending the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting will see something new this year. Silhouettes of individuals are on display with local sex trafficking statistics. They're placed inside CenturyLink Center, Omaha Eppley Airport, Film Streams and at local hotels.

The Women’s Fund of Omaha has launched a campaign to raise awareness about sex trafficking in Nebraska.

Meghan Malik, trafficking project manager at the Women’s Fund of Omaha, said, “Each month, 900 individuals are purchased for sex online in Nebraska, often multiple times. About 75 percent of these individuals show indicators of trafficking. Sex trafficking is happening all around us, right here in our communities. No zip code or neighborhood is immune. To stop trafficking, we need to work together for community-wide action.”

The effort was developed, along with the Coalition on Human Trafficking, to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the Omaha metro area and throughout the state, including rural areas of western Nebraska. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, sex traffickers often use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.

Organizers say that with increased community awareness, anyone can recognize the signs of someone being trafficked. Individuals being purchased for sex against their will are rarely locked away but rather are held captive in plain view. Signs a person may be sex trafficked:

  • Not in possession of their own identification or travel documents
  • Not free to move around independently or socialize
  • Has few personal possessions
  • Unusual tattoos or branding
  • Cannot speak on their own behalf

In February, the Women’s Fund of Omaha released a report, “Nebraska’s Commercial Sex Market,” which defines the market size and highlights characteristics of those who show indicators of being sex trafficked online as well as explores the interconnected market of what’s happening in our state. The research found that 11 percent of individuals being purchased for sex online are advertised as under the age of 21. Buying a minor for sex is sex trafficking by default.

“Through research, we now have a clearer understanding of the vast scope of the online commercial sex market in Nebraska and strong indicators that many individuals in our state are being sex trafficked,” said Malik. “We must do more and work collectively to create systems change that will effectively end trafficking. A long-term strategy must include addressing economic security for women.”

The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) conducted the research through the Heider College of Business at Creighton University. HTI uses data science to collect, analyze and evaluate the scope of sex trafficking across the United States to identify effective policy solutions. HTI is supported by the Women’s Fund of Omaha and funded by The Sherwood Foundation.

In order to stop trafficking, community-wide action is needed. If you see something, say something. Call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888. More information is available on the Coalition on Human Trafficking’s website at

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If you see something
Say something

  • Call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
  • More information is available on the Coalition on Human Trafficking’s website NoTrafficking.org