Lincoln hotel and motel staff will soon have training on how to spot and help victims of sex trafficking.
Workers at about 100 Omaha hotels and motels have already received the training, which is offered by the Coalition of Human Trafficking. With the help of the Women's Fund of Omaha and local law enforcement, that training will expand to Lincoln.
Sister Celeste Wobeter, chairwoman of the Hotel/Motel Project, said 70 to 80 percent of sex-trafficking victims are taken to commercial lodging places for sex. Training staff -- from managers to maids -- will help them spot victims who may need immediate assistance.
"We need to realize this is going on," Wobeter said about sex trafficking. "We need to take off our blinders and shake our denial."
During a news conference announcing the training Monday, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln called sex trafficking a despicable industry and said Nebraska has made strides in the last two years to protect victims and eradicate the crime, including a bill (LB289) that makes punishments stiffer for several sex trafficking-related crimes.
The state also made efforts to not treat sex-trafficking victims as criminals, she said. Until about two years ago, many adult victims were charged with prostitution.
The attorney general's office has worked with local law enforcement and county attorneys to make sure authorities know how to spot a victim from a sex worker.
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. Any minor sold for sex is a victim of sex trafficking.
The next step is the training of hotel staff, Pansing Brooks said.
Lucas Arias, president of the Lincoln Lodging Association, said they haven't been doing their part in being watchful eyes, but said they're more than willing to learn how to help law enforcement and victims.
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 report from Creighton University.
When the study came out, Meghan Malik, of the Women's Fund of Omaha, said it clearly illustrated that trafficking is an issue statewide.
"No ZIP code or neighborhood is immune -- sex trafficking is happening in our communities," she said.
Twenty-five to 30 percent of the online sex 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.