Putting a stop to trafficking

How former senator and current board member is helping

Keirstin Harkleroad, Staff Writer

It can happen at home, at school, or even with close friends. Movies romanticize this subject by portraying a dramatic, completely unexpected kidnapping when, in reality, parents can be the ones selling their kids. It happens at malls, at parties, and at football games. Everyone is vulnerable, especially with the information easily accessible on social media. This issue is human trafficking and is more prevalent than everyone thinks.

“Most human trafficking victims are American citizens who have been here all of their lives,” Millard school board member and former Nebraska state senator Amanda McGill Johnson said. “They’re vulnerable, young people who maybe were sexually abused when they were younger or come from families where there was a lot of dysfunction.”

Although there are many circumstances like the one portrayed by McGill Johnson, they are not limited to just a few situations. The foundation of sex trafficking seems to be dehumanization. The mistreatment of other human beings causes these horrific acts to take place. With respect for one another, these slaves would not be bought, captured or sold.

“To me, the core of so much of trafficking goes back to how we’re just out of touch with what healthy relationships are and look like,” McGill Johnson said.

Although this stems from dehumanization, this viewpoint can also be associated with looking out for one another. Making sure friends are in healthy relationships and are not being controlled, as well as being aware of those around you can play a big part in putting an end to human trafficking. There are signs, however, to recognize when identifying people who are involved in sex trafficking.

“Some of those big signs of trafficking are someone having multiple cell phones, not having their own I.D., or someone else is very controlling of them,” McGill Johnson said.

Looking out for people includes knowing where to get help. The Women’s Fund of Omaha and Center for Advancement, along with the Salvation Army, have been helping victims long before this issue became mainstream. The Magdalene House and Rejuvenating Women are also places that help victims in various ways. Realistically though, not everyone makes it to a rehabilitation center.

“The sad truth is that many people who were trafficked struggle,” McGill Johnson said. “Many go back to it because that’s what they know, and they’re fighting the addiction that they have.”

To prevent this, McGill Johnson has worked with others, including Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson, trying to put an end to human trafficking. Most of McGill Johnson’s work took place when she had the power of being a legislator, but she still stays in touch with people dealing with the issue.

“I’m really proud of the fact that in 2013 we were able to decriminalize prostitution for minors. Not every state has that. We are ahead of the game in many ways,” McGill Johnson said.

Even though there are ways to watch out for trafficking, it is not yet completely extinct. There are still predators hunting for victims every day. This provides even more reason to be on the lookout for unhealthy relationships, signs of trafficking, and any other unusual behavior. Everyone needs to lookout for friends and themselves in order to stay safe because, as Amanda McGill Johnson said, “The reality is that you can’t just make the problem go away overnight.”