The annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln Human Trafficking and Migration Initiative Summit is being held virtually with 14 presentations throughout October.
The event, hosted by the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs between Oct. 4 and Oct. 29, includes 16 speakers from a variety of organizations and academic disciplines.
“The summit is really an extension of some human trafficking resource and outreach that UNL has been doing for well over a decade, that tries to provide cutting-edge research and access to important information about human trafficking,” Courtney Hillebrecht, director of the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, said.
The summit began in 2009 after a number of faculty members expressed interest in understanding human trafficking and beginning to map out its potential patterns, Hillebrecht said.
“Over time, this really developed into not just a research symposium but also an opportunity to connect research with practice, to really use the research that scholars were doing to inform the public’s understanding of this problem and then give policymakers and activists the tools and information they need to combat [human trafficking],” Hillebrecht said.
Nebraska has seen a gradual increase in human trafficking prosecutions since 2014, a year of zero prosecutions, according to the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force report in 2020.
“It’s probably not that we’re experiencing more of this but that we know more about it and have better data and information about the practice,” Hillebrecht said. “A lot of this human trafficking continues to be underreported, but we have better tools, better awareness and education now.”
According to the task force report, there have been 192 total human trafficking investigations in Nebraska, including 57 new investigations in 2020.
“It’s a good time for us to all reflect on where we’ve been over the past year, what we want to accomplish in the next coming months and to really prioritize issues like protecting the most vulnerable among us,” Hillebrecht said.
Although the task force report recorded four human trafficking prosecutions started in Lancaster County during 2020, none of the investigations took place at UNL, according to UNL Police Department Chief Hassan Ramzah.
“We don’t have those types of incidents, typically, that occur here on campus. Not to say it’s not important to be aware of it, because you always have to be aware of it,” Ramzah said. “There’s people that can prey on students and particularly those students that might be vulnerable for a variety of different reasons, so it’s important in that sense to have that awareness.”
UNLPD does not have a specific task force trained for these issues but has a plan for if they encounter them.
“If we came across a human trafficking incident, we would more so rely on other local, state, federal law enforcement agencies for assistance on those types of cases,” Ramzah said.
Aside from law enforcement, students themselves are encouraged to be on the lookout for potential human trafficking activity and to advocate for legislation that combats this issue, Hillbrecht said.
“Students are our primary audience,” Hillebrecht said. “We want to educate them, so number one: they know what human trafficking is. Number two: they feel empowered to go take action to make change … and third: we want students to spread the word about what this practice is and what others can do to stop it.”
Ramzah, who gained experience with human trafficking through being a part of local law enforcement in Wichita, Kansas, emphasized how important it is to be aware of this issue.
“It’s definitely, from my experience, a topic that you want to stay aware of and look at ways that you can raise awareness, provide advocacy, preventative measures and also educate the community on,” Ramzah said. “It’s not one of those crimes that you see that’s broadcast out there. It happens and it just doesn’t get the attention that other crimes do.”