Note: This is a guest post from Appleseed Communications Intern Grady Wiedeman.
It was standing-room only at Omaha’s Urban Abbey on June 30, as a crowd of more than 120 people gathered to discuss ways to recognize and fight human trafficking in Nebraska. Nebraska Appleseed partnered with the Women’s Fund of Omaha to provide a community discussion about human trafficking that was highlighted by a panel of members from various organizations that have a focus on fighting this crime.
The panel included Nikki Siegel from The Bay and I’ve Got a Name, Rachel Davis Pointer from Free the People Movement, Kathy Thomsen from the FBI’s Victim Services, Mary Raynovich from the Salvation Army’s Wellspring Program, and Brooke Carlson from Yes House and Tapestry International. Also there to offer input was Stephen Patrick O’Meara, who is the human trafficking coordinator at the Nebraska Attorney General’s office.
Specifically, Mary Raynovich spoke on how the Wellspring program helps victims of sex trafficking as well as provides peer support groups for victims. Kathy Thomsen of the FBI described that her office worked to hold the system of human trafficking accountable for the atrocities that it commits. Brooke Carlson of Yes House and Tapestry International noted that both of her organizations look at fighting the root causes of human trafficking and highlighted the need to prevent young women from entering the system. Rachel Davis Pointer of Free the People Movement echoed the need to target the root causes and added that we need to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Nikki Siegel also reverberated the need to address the root causes of human trafficking by providing safe places for youth to go, while Stephen Patrick O’Meara spoke on the plan for fighting human trafficking that the State of Nebraska will be unveiling sometime between September 15th and October 1st of this year.
The panel also spoke on the need for assistance in affordable housing in particularly the Omaha and Lincoln areas, as well as the need for greater collaboration in fighting this issue, and a change in the culture of human trafficking, mostly notably recognizing that this problem does happen in our state.
“It is in Nebraska. It isn’t just chains and cages, anymore,” O’Meara said.
The panel also fielded questions from the audience that ranged from a list of common signs of human trafficking to how the current efforts to fight international victims of human trafficking that end up in Nebraska. The overarching theme of the answers provided by the panel included the need for greater efforts to fight human trafficking all over Nebraska and the understanding that it does happen here, and we all have a role to play to bring trafficking to an end in our state.
For more information on the issue of sex trafficking and how it affects children who are in foster care at a higher rate, read our Child Welfare and Sex Trafficking in Nebraska report.