LINCOLN – Last month a man in Western Nebraska was arrested for attempting to buy sex from someone he believed was a minor. Now due to a recent change in Nebraska law, he could be prosecuted as a sex trafficker.
Human trafficking is still considered a relatively “new” crime. The law for human trafficking in the United States started in 2000, while the law in Nebraska came in 2006. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson for a long time has talked about focusing on human trafficking. Assistant Attorney General Glen Parks says one of the ways their office is combating this crime is through the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force, which has been in place for approximately two years.
“Basically we’re just organizing law enforcement and service providers across the state. Regionally, they meet regularly and think through what is happening, or look more at what’s happening in different regions,” explained Parks. “And then we get together and organize so we can both be ready to react to situations that are from tips that come in and also do some proactive operations to get some of these enterprises.”
Recently the attorney general’s office held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda to announce their new Demand an End campaign. With the campaign Nebraska officials hope to continue to fight against human trafficking and prosecute those who are not only sellers, but also those who are buyers.
“If there weren’t anyone buying sex with minors, or people who are doing this unwillingly, they wouldn’t be here,” said Parks. “People wouldn’t be advertising. Word would get out that this is just not a place to do business. So the Unicameral last session increased the penalties significantly for human traffickers and then they also now include buyers as human traffickers. So someone who buys a minor for sex could now be prosecuted as a trafficker.”
The crime is a Class IB Felony. The Unicameral increased the penalty of human trafficking to a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. And now those who solicit sex with a minor falls under this crime. Parks says they are actively targeting buyers with the intent to dissuade anyone from buying sex from a minor or someone who is offered against their will.
“Maybe the morality of it doesn’t stop them from doing this, but we hope they realize what a harsh penalty it is and the fact that we are active,” stated Parks. “Law enforcement is looking for the buyers here. We hope that will dissuade people from doing this. We would much rather dissuade everyone from even considering it. But of course there will be those people who, despite the penalty, will go ahead and do this. And we will be out there and do our best to prosecute them.”
Parks also explains their new campaign is not just about stopping this crime, but it’s also about attacking the demand for human trafficking, especially here in Nebraska.
“We are demanding an end to human trafficking,” said Parks. “But we’re also hoping to end the demand. The task force looks at this as a market. As with any business, there are costs, profits, risks, and supply and demand. So on each one of those elements, we’re trying to make Nebraska an inhospitable place to do human trafficking.”
Demand an End campaign is predominantly a social media and poster campaign. People can expect to see signs, posters, and videos promoting awareness of the issue.
“The Department of Transportation is coordinating with us. They have put posters up at the rest stops all across I-80,” said Parks. “So as people come and stop there, they’ll see these. And in addition to that, we’re encouraging people to use social media to get the word out. We have a video as well on the AG’s website. But basically the message is that sex buyers need to beware. They are not as anonymous as they think they are, and we are now actively looking for people who are doing this.”
Officials say they want to spread the word and inform the general public about the signs of someone who is trafficking, or a victim of trafficking. Parks says he understands that many people in Nebraska are hesitant to believe human trafficking is an issue in the state, but the facts and research are out there, as well as the victims, sellers, and buyers.
“Undercover police were posing as a 15-year-old online. They got a lot of responses and two people showed up and were arrested for sex trafficking,” stated Parks. “They came up knowing it was a 15-year-old and were planning to pay money for this service. So that’s happening. There was the conviction of Anthony Swindle. So I really do understand Nebraskans who, at first, don’t believe this is happening. This is the good life. But unfortunately it is a problem we have.”
Anthony Swindle was sentenced in Douglas County District Court to a minimum of 180 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of crimes which included selling a 15-year-old girl for sex.
Parks says research and information on the signs of human trafficking can all be found on the attorney general’s website.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. This is something where a human being is being treated as an object and as being owned. They are forced to do things against their will through threats, or threats to their family, or through violence,” explained Parks. “So you can imagine someone in this situation probably won’t look you in the eye. They probably won’t even be answering for themselves. If you ask them a question they may look to somebody else to answer for them, even though they are a teenager or an adult.”
If someone sees signs of human trafficking they should call (888) 373-7888 to report it. Anyone can visit the attorney general’s website for more information about the Demand an End campaign and human trafficking. Also the full interview with Assistant Attorney General Glen Parks can be found on our Podcasts page.