OPD, Women’s Fund of Omaha spread awareness of human trafficking during CWS

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Kamrin Baker
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Graphic for Women’s Fund ‘Not On My Watch’ campaign. Photo courtesy of Women’s Fund of Omaha

For almost 70 years, the College World Series has been a summer fixture in Omaha. Whether folks have fond memories at Rosenblatt Stadium or a renewed tradition of spending their last two weeks of June at TD Ameritrade Park, the CWS, for the most part, is a time for celebrating America’s pastime with the whole family.

Unfortunately, like any large event, the CWS, with fly balls and Dippin Dots, can also highlight crime in the area. Most specifically, this is an important time to spread awareness on human trafficking in Nebraska.

The Nebraska State Statute defines trafficking for both those of age and minors as: “knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, soliciting or obtaining by any means a person…for the purpose of having such person engage without consent in commercial sexual activity, sexually explicit performance, or the production of pornography.”

To explain it in layman’s terms, Meghan Malik, the Trafficking Project Manager at the Women’s Fund of Omaha said: “sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to cause another person to engage in sexual activity for the promise of anything of value.”

While there is an increase in awareness efforts during the College World Series from both the Women’s Fund and the Omaha Police Department, according to Omaha Police Captain Tom Shaffer, trafficking doesn’t actually increase during the CWS.

Malik said that data shows “every month, 900 individuals are for sale for sex online in Nebraska with 70-75% of those showing signs for trafficking. Nebraska is also embedded in a regional trafficking network largely defined by [interstates] I-80 and I-29, which intersect in Omaha. These interstates also facilitate national movement.”

In terms of the CWS, this event brings a large influx of people, and therefore, a larger potential for any crime.

“What we know is that when more people come into a town or area, the likelihood that trafficking increases is high,” Malik said. “What’s important to note is that sex trafficking is happening in our communities every day—no neighborhood or zip code is immune, and it isn’t only happening in our backyards, it’s happening in our back pockets with the click of a smartphone.”

As seen in previous years, the Women’s Fund and OPD use this time to spread awareness on the issue of trafficking, while also running law enforcement operations to monitor the issue.

“There has been an increased national focus into human trafficking as of late,” Shaffer said. “Human trafficking takes place nationwide and there has been an increased and renewed effort by law enforcement, legislatures, prosecutors, as well as private and public organizations to come up with specific strategies to combat it.”

In Nebraska, the Attorney General, Doug Peterson, leads a Human Trafficking task force, which hosts a variety of educational materials on their website. Shaffer said the OPD, along with several other law enforcement agencies and other groups and organizations, are members of the task force and meet regularly to discuss all aspects of human trafficking.

Malik expanded on this and said that the Women’s Fund is “committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we are creating a community where women are free from violence—including sex trafficking.”

This work is executed through supporting survivors by working to pass bills in the Legislature that provide support and services to survivors, amplifying the agency of survivors through work with Survivors Rising and more; educating the general public to help prevent and stop trafficking through CWS awareness and developing media resources to “change the narrative of violence against women;” and holding traffickers and buyers accountable through effective policy solutions in the Legislature and by training officers, doctors and other strategic partners using victim-centered language and procedures.

Both Shaffer and Malik shared some safety tips for CWS attendees to take action and account for their safety during this busy time.

“There are some simple ways to lessen your chances from being a victim of any crime,” Shaffer said.

-Do not leave any valuables in your vehicles or in plain sight
-Lock your vehicle and roll up your windows
-Park in a well lit area, if possible
-Travel with others to, from and within the stadium
-Report any suspicious activity to law enforcement or security (Shaffer said: “don’t assume somebody else will or already has”).
-Use your knowledge to create a culture of believing survivors and understanding healthy relationships
-Encourage others to understand that this issue happens in every day life
-Know the warning signs of trafficking, which are available online at https://www.omahawomensfund.org/not-on-my-watch/
-Know the National Hotline, which is available 24/7. 1-888-373-7888

All in all, Malik and Shaffer shared the sentiment that the influx of tourism and the centrally located population in Omaha during the CWS provides the opportunity to raise awareness about an issue that pervades the community.

“Prevention starts with awareness,” Malik said. We must all get involved to advocate for effective policy that supports survivors. Our system of support must not criminalize survivors but instead create opportunities for safety and economic stability. If they [CWS attendees] can also open their eyes and realize the signs, then more people will begin to understand that there are victims in our community, they can recognize the violence that happens and do something about it—-like contact their local or state representative.”

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