Sex for sale in Nebraska: Human trafficking hidden in plain sight
Right now, there is sex for sale somewhere in Nebraska. It’s a crime that plays out in parking lots, at truck stops, in hotels and homes; but it’s not always between two consenting adults, like we see with prostitution.
Instead, experts say it’s often human trafficking, someone being held prisoner and forced into a life they never wanted to be a part of.
“Where it’s red there’s really a huge demand, and there’s Hastings and Grand Island, there’s demand for sex there,” said Anna Brewer, who worked with the FBI for 20 years.
Research done by Creighton University, shows that sex is advertised online in nearly every part of the state.
“To think that the community you live in, Kearney, Lexington, Grand Island; there’s demand for sex there,” said Brewer. “If there was no demand, the traffickers would not bring these girls to these small rural areas.”
For 6 years, Brewer led the FBI’s Omaha Child Exploitation Task Force, and investigated sex trafficking cases across the country. She says gone are the days of people circling blocks looking for sex; today, you can scroll through ads on your phone and pick a human being to buy.
“80% of sex trafficking happens on the internet. It’s not the traditional walking the street like it used to be,” said Brewer.
According to research done by Creighton University, funded by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, there are 900 people for sale online every month in Nebraska, and almost all of them are female.
“The ads will use words as fresh, new, new meat, virgin; words like that to insinuate that they’re young,” said Brewer. “That speaks to the demand. Who do the buyers want? Often times they identify them as being 18, because that’s the barley legal age to be able to post online. When we see 18, that’s a huge indicator that it could be someone underage.”
Researchers found that 75% of the people trafficked in Nebraska, are from Nebraska.
“So it’s our own youth, our own population, our own citizens that are being exploited,” said Brewer.
Men and women exploiting strangers; and even parents selling their own kids right here in central Nebraska.
Back in 2013, a Franklin County mother was sentenced to 80 years in prison for trafficking her two children to her boyfriend and people she met online.
In May of 2012, Michelle Randall put a personal ad on Craigslist offering female companionship in the Kearney area. She then offered the sexual services of her 14-year-old daughter to an undercover officer posing as a man answering the ad.
Court records show she also arranged for multiple men to have sex with her 7-year-old daughter in exchange for cash on several occasions, and the Upland woman sent pornographic pictures of her children to several men. Records say, at times she would watch them have sex and even join in.
“I’ve never met someone who truly, when you get down to the root of it, truly wants to be engaged in this lifestyle,” said Brewer.
Victims are often young and vulnerable; and traffickers use a number of tactics to establish control, including violence, threats and manipulation.
Some are lured in by promises of a better life, and others are even abducted; only to be trapped in physical and mental prisons, leaving them cut off from the outside world and at the mercy of their master.
“We don’t know what the trafficker has told the young woman. So, if she’s 28-years-old and she has a 2-year-old daughter at home in New Jersey, and she’s in Omaha, Nebraska and the trafficker says if you don’t go and bring me home $1,000 today, I’m going to call my partners in New Jersey and we’re going to burn your house down, and your little daughter is going to be dead. That’s coercion. I don’t know about you but I would do anything for my children, I would cut my left arm off for my children,” said Brewer. “And then there’s just the fraud element of ‘I love you, if you love me you’ll do this,’. Love in a strong bond, and it’s even stronger if you’re married to your trafficker and/or you have a child with your trafficker.”
Research also shows Nebraska’s location has allowed trafficking to thrive. Interstate 80 creates more opportunities to sell sex, allowing traffickers to easily take their victims from one place to another, with countless hotels and truck stops along the way.
“If for example you were to look at an ad for a person on January 1, and then you looked for them a week later, and then a week later, and then a week later. You would see them moving across the country. You would see them in Denver one week, in Omaha the next week, in Chicago the next week, and then Philadelphia the next week; and when you look at that, that’s I-80,” said Brewer.
Where large groups of people are gathered, Brewer says expect more customers.
Places like casinos, the State Fair in Grand Island, and even major sporting events like the College World Series in Omaha, or the Super Bowl are all hot spots.
“When you bring a number of people that are willing to engage in risky behavior, that have disposable income, and they’re away from home. So it’s not the casinos’ fault that this happens, it’s not the businesses fault that this happens. It’s putting all those elements together creates a risky environment that offers the opportunity for someone to purchase another human being,” said Brewer.
Ultimately, the FBI veteran says this crime can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone.
“You don’t have to be in an urban area,” said Brewer. “At the end of the day, the trafficker’s motivation is money. Money, money, money, money, money. There such little risk involved and such great reward in trafficking human beings.”
We know that sex is for sale in Nebraska, but what’s being done to stop it?
What you can do
The S.A.F.E. Center offers free human trafficking awareness training for anyone who is interested, including church groups, civic groups, and clubs. Educators will help you know how to spot human trafficking and what you can do to help.
To set up a training, call the S.A.F.E. Center at (308) 237-2599.
Help for survivors and victims
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking call 911 or the Human Trafficking Hotline, at (888) 373-7888, and request to speak with a SAFE-T staff member in Nebraska.
If you are a survivor looking for help you call the S.A.F.E. Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1(877) 237-2513 or 1(877) 215-0167 for Spanish.
The S.A.F.E. Center offers free, confidential help and even shelter to victims of sex trafficking, or any type of abuse or trauma.