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Venzor: Support for human trafficking victims

Recently, the state Judiciary Committee advanced LB519, introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Auburn. LB519 has become an omnibus bill for several different human trafficking proposals. Included in this package is LB516, introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, which the Nebraska Catholic Conference supported earlier this session during public hearing. The legislation is now in the process of being debated by the entire legislative body.

LB516 is a critical step forward for Nebraska in combatting the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. The legislation designates all children in Nebraska who are being sold for sex (one major form of human trafficking) as abused and neglected children, which ensures that they are subsequently connected with needed support services.

CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING

The church’s teaching on human trafficking stems from the fundamental fact of our God-given human dignity. As Pope Francis has recognized, “Every human being, man, woman, boy and girl is made in God’s image” (“Declaration on International Day for the Abolition of Slavery,” Dec. 2, 2014) and, therefore, each person deserves the respect and dignity that is theirs by right of being a child of God.

Human trafficking undermines this precious reality by seeing and using the human person as a commodity, a product for distribution and sale – as Pope Francis has noted, “to satisfy an immoral desire.”

Given this severe abuse of human dignity, it is no surprise that Pope Francis has also used strong language to condemn human trafficking. He has called human trafficking an “atrocious scourge,” an “aberrant plague” and an “open wound on the body of contemporary society.”

For these reasons, the church has recognized human trafficking for what it truly is and commenced the work of abolishing it. Most notably, religious sisters across the world – and even in our own state – have been in the trenches combatting human trafficking, rescuing and restoring victims and bringing traffickers to justice and rehabilitation.

PROGRESS IN NEBRASKA

In the past several years, Nebraska has made major advancements to recognize, educate about, and end human trafficking. For example, the Legislature has passed laws to determine the scope and extent of human trafficking in the state, implement a task force to more closely analyze the problem of human trafficking, create harsher penalties for human traffickers, and allow human trafficking victims to clean up their criminal records.

Attorney General Doug Peterson has also increased resources in his office to further educate law enforcement personnel across the state and to increase prosecutions of human traffickers.

REMEDYING A PROBLEM

Currently, youth being trafficked in Nebraska are treated differently depending on the person who is the reported trafficker. If the trafficker is a parent or caregiver, the child is identified as abused or neglected and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) gets involved. If the trafficker is someone other than the parent or caregiver, law enforcement officials are primarily responsible for meeting the child’s need. 

However, law enforcement officials often lack the support services and resources to properly assist a child who has been the victim of human trafficking.

LB516 remedies this problem by ensuring that every child who is a victim of human trafficking is properly identified as abused or neglected. This designation triggers a response by DHHS, which is better equipped to serve the child (and family) through the trauma of human trafficking. The services included may be safe and appropriate shelter, food assistance, medical and mental health care, substance abuse services and/or education, among others.

Nebraska has taken important steps to curb the demand for human trafficking by instituting stricter penalties for traffickers and users of trafficking. But legislation like LB516 seeks to provide more holistic remedies to the evil of human trafficking by ensuring that victims are properly cared for. Such policies become a sign of mercy and restoration for victims who, once healed, can be an even greater testament and resource in the goal of abolishing this form of modern slavery.

In your generosity, take a moment to let your legislator know that you support LB516 and other trafficking measures that assist victims. And please pray for the conversion of all those who diabolically engage in the human trafficking industry. 

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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