LINCOLN — A minor who is being trafficked for sex is not a criminal but a victim, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse heard at a hearing Tuesday.
Nebraska law enforcement officials have been trained to have the presumption that people who are being paid for sex are victims so, rather than being charged with the crime of prostitution, they are more likely to get resources and connect police to the human traffickers.
“The State of Nebraska today is far more aware of what trafficking might look like and how to respond to it,” said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.
Sasse, a Republican, called the field hearing of a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee in order to raise awareness about the financial side of human trafficking, often called modern-day slavery.
It’s an estimated $150 billion industry that affects an estimated 25 million people around the world.
Sasse heard from experts about how people in the U.S. enslave others, often to sell for sex or, less often, for forced labor. He said Nebraska is doing some good things to combat trafficking, and he asked what the federal government could do.
David Murray, a vice president for the Financial Integrity Network, said he wants to see three specific legislative changes: Ban anonymous companies because traffickers can hide behind them; strengthen cryptocurrency regulations; and make retail and other payments more transparent.
Crysta Price, who studies data on human trafficking at Creighton University as the CEO and founder of HTI Labs, said that as law enforcement becomes more sophisticated at tracking human trafficking, traffickers become more sophisticated at hiding their payments.
“It’s exceptionally difficult to identify a situation of trafficking from financial data alone,” she said.
But, she said, finding patterns in financial information can help law enforcement investigate cases of trafficking.
She promoted partnerships among organizations such as her own, financial institutions and law enforcement.
State Sen. Julie Slama of Peru also testified about a recently passed bill she sponsored with two other senators, LB 519, that among other things extends the statute of limitations for criminal charges against traffickers and details damages victims may be awarded if they sue their traffickers in civil court.
A 2018 study from the Women’s Fund of Omaha estimated that 900 people were sold for sex in Nebraska each month.
Sasse called human trafficking “a scourge” and “unspeakable evil.” He also stressed that “this isn’t some far-away problem — this stuff is happening in our communities.”
He said after the hearing that he did not plan to offer a bill on the topic. He said he wants to continue the educational process for senators.
“There’s still a lot to learn,” he said.