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Nebraska launches effort to clamp down on sex trafficking

Sex Trafficking (MGN)

Nebraska officials will target potential sex traffickers this year with more proactive law enforcement and an ad campaign at rest stops and other places where victims are coerced into prostitution, Attorney General Doug Peterson announced Thursday.

The new "Demand an End" initiative is the latest step in a multiyear effort to stop sex trafficking, particularly when the victims are minors. Lawmakers and Gov. Pete Ricketts have increased penalties for traffickers and those who pay for sex in recent years and passed legislation intended to help those who are trafficked.

Peterson said the initiative is designed to send a message that state officials take the issue seriously and will prosecute trafficking cases. Law enforcement officers plan to focus on those who purchase sex.

"You're going to pay a really significant price if you're caught," Peterson said at a Capitol news conference, where he was joined by dozens of elected state officials and advocates.

Many of the anti-trafficking advertisements will appear on YouTube and at rest stops on Interstate 80, which officials have identified as a major conduit for traffickers. They also will be posted at libraries, recreation centers, truck stops and businesses.

Peterson said the Nebraska State Patrol plans to increase its enforcement efforts later this year, and the newly passed laws will help. Soliciting a minor for sex now carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison.

"The ball has now been handed to us," the attorney general said.

The Human Trafficking Initiative has said 11 percent of the people sold online for sex in Nebraska are advertised as under the age of 21. In July, an Omaha man was sentenced to prison for his role in a sex trafficking ring near Offutt Air Force Base that involved a 15-year-old girl.

The campaign has attracted a broad, bipartisan coalition that includes law enforcement, advocates for women and children, nonprofits and the trucking industry.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who led the charge on several recent human trafficking bills, said the campaign will help prevent "the sale and resale of human flesh" in Nebraska.

"These people (who are trafficked) are subject to force, fraud and coercion," she said.

Lawmakers will consider at least one bill this year designed to further restrict human trafficking. Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue has introduced legislation designed to prevent criminals from using digital currencies such as bitcoin for illegal purposes. Blood said such currencies help traffickers to buy and sell women and girls for sex.

The campaign started in Georgia and is being shared with Nebraska for free.

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