Nebraska's Commercial Sex Market

Two hundred people are sold for sex every month in Lincoln and another 700 are sold in other parts of the state, according to a new report from Creighton University.

Lincoln Police Sgt. Ben Miller said researchers spent several years analyzing the website Backpage.com, where ads for escorts often led police nationwide to sex trafficking victims. The researchers, Crysta Price and Terry Clark, cross-referenced the ads to make sure they weren’t counting one potential victim multiple times, he said.

Miller said there are a number of ways to determine if an ad was made by a trafficker or by someone selling him or herself -- including if the picture was taken by someone else, the verbiage used in the post and if the pictures were taken in a hotel room.

The report, "Nebraska’s Commercial Sex Market," is the first look at empirical data of what the commercial sex trade looks like in Nebraska, said Meghan Malik, trafficking project manager at the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

"It clearly illustrates that this is in all of our backyards," she said. "No ZIP code or neighborhood is immune -- sex trafficking is happening in our communities.”

Twenty-five to 30 percent of the ads researchers studied were posted by adults working independently and not being trafficked. About 70 percent showed some sign of advertised individuals being underage or controlled by a third party, the report says.

Prostitution is defined as a person willingly exchanging sex for money. Sex trafficking happens when a commercial sex act takes place through force, fraud or coercion by a trafficker.

Backpage.com shut down its escort section in January, but until then, it accounted for 80 percent of online commercial sex advertising.

“This shutdown will not affect either the supply or demand for individuals sold for sex," Malik said. "It’s not about how the market size will change, but rather where these individuals will be sold next and what online hub will be used. In fact, the shutdown of Backpage increases the vulnerability of those sold for sex making an already tough situation even worse.”

The report also found that people from 27 states were sold for sex throughout Nebraska and 24 percent of the victims came from out of state to be sold.

The report made these recommendations.

* Create meaningful alternatives to employment opportunities that provide the most viable path out of the commercial sex industry.

* Public and private agencies should collaborate and share information with other states and across jurisdictions.

* Increase penalties for buyers of sex.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or nmanna@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNicholeManna.

Load comments