Human traffickers come in all shapes and sizes, according to a Nebraska State Patrol lieutenant who spoke to the Nebraska City Rotary Club on Jan. 8.
"Everyone could be a suspect," Lt. Monty Lovelace told club members and guests during his presentation on identifying human trafficking.
Lovelace has investigated a variety of crimes in his career with the State Patrol.
He has focused on child exploitation for almost 20 years and has helped create Truckers Against Trafficking with a national nonprofit truck driving association.
Lovelace said law enforcement has had to
develop me and innovative ways to catch traffickers.
"We have to get into the gutter to get these people," he said.
Traffickers find their victims in a variety of places, said Lovelace, including parties, malls, schools, libraries and online.
They then isolate their victims, give them expensive gifts, offer them often unrealistic jobs, or act as if they want to be the victim's boyfriend or girlfriend, said Lovelace.
Other indications that a child or teen is involved in trafficking, according to Lovelace, may include frequent absences from school, running away from home, unexplained large sums of cash, unusual tattoos, talk of traveling to other cities or states, or numerous cell phones.
To protect children and teens from being recruited into trafficking through social media, Lovelace recommends that parents develop strong communication with their children and that they monitor their children's online presence.
"Tech changes daily," he said, "and parents need to be vigilant."
Lovelace also suggested that children or teens follow a few tips when creating a social media presence or posting online, including
Friending only people they know;
Keeping their social media network private;
Telling their parents if they are approached persistently or inappropriately by a stranger; and
Avoiding online 'check-in's that advertise their location while away from home.
Lovelace also offered some indicators of trafficking to watch for when out in public, such as a child or teen's cell phone being controlled by an adult, inappropriate dress on a child or teen, signs of untreated physical injuries on a child or teen, or malnutrition.
"We have to intervene sometimes," said Lovelace. "It's incumbent on us to be good human beings."
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 888-373-7888.
The Nebraska City Rotary Club meets at noon Wednesdays at Valentino’s Grand Italian Buffet, 1710 S. 11th St. Guest speaker for tomorrow (Jan. 15) is scheduled to be Bill Harvey of the Rotary Foundation. On Jan. 22, club members and guests are set to visit the Morton-James Public Library for a presentation on the Library Innovation Studios MakerSpace from library director Donna Kruse.