Reports of women’s encounters with sex trafficking and kidnapping have surged on social media and have left some students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln feeling unsafe.
But resources at UNL are prepared to address student concerns and encourage a higher degree of awareness across the student body.
Captain John Backer said the University Police has received multiple calls from people concerned about the phenomenon.
“Sex traffickers gain the trust of their victims, it usually doesn’t happen spontaneously. But whether the report is true or fake, we investigate any concerns that people have,” Backer said.
Polaris, a project that strives to prevent and disrupt human trafficking, reports that traffickers often target women by promising a high-paying job, a loving relationship or new and exciting opportunities.
Rachel Dempsey, a freshman majoring in advertising and public relations, feels safe on campus during the day, but said she has recently felt nervous past sunset.
“It’s pretty sketchy at night. I usually walk in groups, but if I have to walk alone, I always make sure I have pepper spray,” Dempsey said.
Grace Partridge, a freshman involved with the Alpha Omicron sorority, shared similar concerns.
“Safety was a top priority for me as I knew I would be far away from home. Lincoln’s campus felt very safe to me and [the administration] does a great job making students feel comfortable,” she said.
Many girls join sororities to be part of a sisterhood and feel connected, and Partridge’s level of safety has been reinforced by sorority life.
“Girls often offer to pick other girls up, walk to class together, and say, ‘Call me when you get home,’” she said. “Older girls certainly take on a mentor role and ensure that everyone is aware of the danger around them.”
There are many resources at UNL for students who feel threatened or unsafe. University Police should be the first number to call, because they offer to escort students home after studying or hanging out with friends late at night and give presentations on risk prevention and personal safety.
If the situation doesn’t bring immediate danger, the Women’s Center at UNL offers help in a number of ways.
The Women’s Center is a comprehensive place for gender equity, Jan Deeds, the center’s director, said. The center hosts many services for students.
Some of the services are dedicated specifically to victims, like the “UNL Week Without Violence,” which the Women’s Center will hold during the second week of October. During this week of events, speakers will educate attendees on global violence, consent and sexual health.
“Trust your gut. Do not diminish something because you think you’re making it up. If you feel threatened, trust that instinct,” Deeds said.
Every Wednesday at 6 p.m., the victim advocacy group UNL PREVENT meets and discusses relationship violence awareness. They offer free confidential counseling services for those experiencing abuse. There are also groups within the center for women in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, men and masculinity and a sitters service for students with children.
“Everything we do is because of a student reaching out to us and telling us that we are missing something that could benefit others,” Deeds said. “This is not just a place for women; we support women and men and want to help in every way we can.”
“Whether it is yourself or someone you know that is in danger, the university has these resources just for that,” she said. “Contact them immediately, and do not second guess yourself.”