LINCOLN–Four bills introduced by three senators to the Nebraska Legislature this session would change how human trafficking cases are investigated and provide support for survivors.
The bills, introduced separately by Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and Julie Slama of Peru, focus moving prosecution away from survivors of human trafficking and toward the traffickers and purchasers.
“It’s an issue that needs some people stepping up and advocating for these victims and working to crack down on these rings,” Slama said. “This is a problem that’s more prevalent in Nebraska than we’d like to think it is.”
Pansing Brooks introduced two bills in the package, one of which would enforce a law in which children who are subjected to human trafficking are defined as abused and neglected, and are therefore able to receive services from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Another bill from Pansing Brooks would allow a survivor’s civil damages, such as the costs of medical treatment or daycare for a child during treatment, to be imposed upon traffickers or purchasers during a civil case.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘We’re going to change the law,’ but we also have to help these victims and the survivors who have been raped over and over and over again multiple times a day and who really have experienced post-traumatic stress in a significant way,” Pansing Brooks said.
Linehan’s bill would adopt the Support for Trafficking Survivors Act, which would provide funding for survivors of human trafficking and the providers of services for those survivors.
The bill introduced by Slama would extend the statute of limitations for human trafficking and child pornography. The statute of limitations for adult human trafficking is currently three years, but this bill would raise it to seven.
Slama’s bill would also allow law enforcement agencies to use wiretapping for human trafficking cases, a method that is already used for other felonies like kidnapping and robbery, she said.
“This just brings their powers up to par, because obviously, with human trafficking, there’s a lot of evidence collection that could be made more efficient by wiretapping powers and would allow law enforcement agencies to move on these rings quicker and get these women out of that situation,” Slama said.
Pansing Brooks, who has been involved with the topic of human trafficking in the Legislature since assuming office in 2015, said after becoming acquainted with the issue in her first few years as a senator, she realized a major problem: The wrong person was being arrested.
“We misunderstood what we were doing for a long time,” Pansing Brooks said. “Generally, people are under the control of another person if they’re being trafficked. And they aren’t in control of the money, they aren’t in control of their housing.”
Pansing Brooks said she’s visited schools to address the issue of human trafficking and has often been met with blank stares. The state of Nebraska needs to be made aware of this crisis, she said, so that solutions can be developed.
“It’s all about the survivors,” Pansing Brooks said. “It’s about making sure to have opportunities, civil remedies, to have support and all sorts of services available to the survivors.”