Sen. Sasse: U.S. Can Learn From Nebraska In Human Trafficking Fight

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) hears testimony from human trafficking experts in Lincoln on September 3, 2019. (Becca Costello, NET News)
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September 3, 2019 - 4:19pm

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) says the federal government needs to do a better job in educating the public and law enforcement about human trafficking, and they can look to Nebraska for examples. 


Sasse is Chairman of the National Security and International Trade and Finance Subcommittee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. He hosted a hearing of that subcommittee in Lincoln Tuesday, hearing testimony from local and national experts.

He says the U.S. can learn a lot about combating human trafficking from Nebraska. 

"Nebraska has some really good researchers and some great collaboration happening across state and local law enforcement and across feedback loops from the executive branch back into the legislature," Sasse said. 

Attorney General Doug Peterson described the work Nebraska has done over the past few years, including extending the statute of limitations for trafficking charges and criminal record relief for victims who are forced to commit crimes. 

"I think the awareness is always going to be something that we have to stay in front of, but I think the state of Nebraska today is far more aware of what human trafficking might look like and how to respond to it," Peterson said. 

The hearing focused on the intersection of trafficking and financial institutions.

David Murray is Vice President of the Financial Integrity Network, a private advisory firm based in D.C. focused on preventing money laundering and other corruption.

He says trafficking payments often take place in shadowy financial realms with very little oversight and transparency, especially through anonymous companies.

"Human trafficking organizations and other transnational criminal organizations have exploited anonymous companies for decades," Murray said. "In many places in the united states obtaining a library card requires more documentation than forming a legal entity."

Read More: Tattoo Artists Learning To Identify Human Trafficking, Offer Resources

Murray wants Congress to pass a bill that outlaws anonymous companies. Murray also asked Sen. Sasse to work on strengthening cryptocurrency regulations and improving transparency for retail and other consumer payments. 

Financial institutions like banks are increasingly looking for red flags to shut down suspicious accounts. 

"Red flags to financial institutions include, but are not limited to, traffickers' lifestyle being inconsistent with their stated income, a trafficker using a victim's account, carefully structured deposits to avoid detection," said State Sen. Julie Slama (District 1). "Strange deductions on an employees' pay stub or large sums of money transferred to several banks." 

Crysta Price is CEO of HTI Labs in Omaha, and is one of the nation’s leading experts on human trafficking data. 

Price says that red flag approach is not enough. 

"The commercial sex market in general and specific trafficking organizations in particular, have shown themselves to be extremely adaptable in the face of attempts to limit their activity by financial institutions," Price said. "In my view, finding otherwise missed instances of trafficking requires shifting from static red flags to active ongoing information sharing between financial institutions, researchers who can uncover trafficking, and law enforcement officials who can investigate it." 

National Human Trafficking Hotline:

  • 1-888-373-7888
  • TTY: 711
  • Text: 233733
  • Chat online at humantraffickinghotline.org

Price says information sharing is the most important need in understanding and preventing human trafficking. 

"We have been really lucky to be able to build that here locally because the Nebraska response to trafficking has been extremely collaborative," Price said. 

But those lines of communication are not open on the federal level, and Price says that's very limiting. For example, the FBI has not released data seized last year when the website Backpage was shut down. The Craigslist-type website was used to advertise sex for sale. Price says most sex trafficking is advertised online, and that data should be analyzed by researchers. 

Read More: Truck Drivers Being Trained To Help Spot Human Trafficking

Attorney General Peterson suggests the data collected by big tech companies could be useful to law enforcement as well. 

"What you find is with enormous amounts of data gathered on individuals you can find pretty clear patterns of behavior," Peterson said. "The problem is that some of these private companies have to balance between privacy and working together with law enforcement. But we're finding that in the future that may be helpful for us to better follow those patterns of trafficking." 

Other members of the subcommittee have until mid-September to submit questions to the experts who testified. 

Sasse says there are no immediate plans for specific legislation concerning trafficking. 

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