By Tom Venzor
Last week, the Judiciary Committee advanced LB519, introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Auburn. The legislation is an omnibus bill for several different human trafficking proposals. Included in this package is LB516, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, which the Nebraska Catholic Conference supported earlier this session during public hearing.
LB516 is a critical step forward for Nebraska in combating the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. The legislation ensures all children in Nebraska who are being sold for sex (one major form of human trafficking) are recognized as abused and neglected children. It also ensures that these children are subsequently connected with needed support services.
Catholic Social Teaching & Human Trafficking. The Church’s teaching on human trafficking stems from the fundamental fact of our God-given human dignity. As Pope Francis has recognized, “[e]very human being, man, woman, boy and girl, is made in God’s image” and, therefore, each person deserves the respect and dignity that is theirs by right of existing as a child of God.
Human trafficking undermines this precious reality by seeing and using the human person as an object, as a tool or means for some other perceived good (e.g., money, drugs, etc.). Human trafficking commodifies the human person and looks upon them as a product for distribution and sale—as Pope Francis has noted, “to satisfy an immoral desire[.]”
Given this severe abuse of human dignity, it is no surprise that Pope Francis has also used strong language in condemnation of human trafficking. He has recognized human trafficking as an “atrocious scourge,” an “aberrant plague,” and an “open wound on the body of contemporary society.”
For these reasons, the Church has begun recognizing human trafficking for what it truly is and commenced the work of abolishing human trafficking. Most notably, religious sisters across the world—and even in our own state—have been in the trenches of human trafficking, rescuing and restoring victims and bringing traffickers to justice and rehabilitation.
Nebraska & Human Trafficking. In the last several years, Nebraska has made major advancements to recognize, educate about, and end human trafficking. For example, the Legislature has passed laws to determine the scope and extent of human trafficking in Nebraska, implemented a task force to more closely analyze the problem of human trafficking, created harsher penalties for human traffickers, and allowed human trafficking victims to clean up their criminal record. As well, Attorney General Doug Peterson has increased resources in his office to further educate law enforcement personnel across the state and increase prosecutions of human trafficking.
While at one time Nebraska was behind the curve in its work against human trafficking, we are beginning to catch up and, indeed, in some instances we are the nation’s leader.
LB516: Remedying a Problem. Currently, youth being trafficked in Nebraska are treated differently, depending on who is the reported trafficker. If the trafficker is a parent or caregiver, the child is identified as abused or neglected and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) gets involved. If the trafficker is somebody other than the parent or caregiver, law enforcement officials are primarily responsible for meeting the child’s need.
However, as is readily clear, law enforcement officials often lack the support services and resources to properly assist a child who has been the victim of human trafficking.
LB516 remedies this problem by ensuring that every child who is a victim of human trafficking is properly identified as abused or neglected. This designation triggers a response by DHHS, which is the better equipped governmental entity to serve the child (and family) through the trauma of human trafficking. The services included may be safe and appropriate shelter, food assistance, medical and mental health care, substance abuse services and education, among others.
In the fight against human trafficking, Nebraska has taken important steps in curbing the demand for trafficking by instituting stricter penalties for traffickers and users of trafficking. But legislation like LB516 seeks to provide more holistic remedies to the evil of human trafficking by ensuring that victims are properly cared for. Such policies become a sign of mercy and restoration for victims who, once healed, can be an even greater testament and resource in the goal of abolishing this modern slavery.
In your generosity, take a moment to let your legislator know that you support LB516 and other trafficking measures that assist victims. And please pray for the conversion of all those who diabolically engage in the human trafficking industry.