Human trafficking is a problem right here in Nebraska. Nebraskans may not want to admit it, but it’s there.

Law enforcement says the Interstate 80 corridor is where much of it occurs. Women, many of whom may have been runaways, are trafficked for sex.

Their traffickers keep a close eye on them and force them to have sex with strangers, and the traffickers make money off of them. Many of these women are held against their will.

Unfortunately, many of these sexual encounters occur at motels along I-80 and elsewhere.

That is why it is important that Grand Island join other communities in the state in fighting human and sex trafficking.

To do that, the Grand Island Area Coalition on Trafficking is starting a program to train hotel and motel staff to look for signs of human trafficking. The training will teach the staff “how to realize, recognize and respond to human trafficking,” said Valerie Roth, who is chair of the coalition.

This is an important program. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere at all times. Community members need to be aware and watchful for signs of crime and report them to authorities.

Human traffickers operate in the shadows, trying to hide what they do. However, there are signs to watch for that someone is being held against their will.

This training will teach the motel staff — desk clerks, housekeepers, management and others — what to watch for in visitors’ behavior. But it also will go beyond just watching. It will also show them how they should respond if they suspect something.

Certainly, motel staff aren’t being asked to endanger themselves. Rather they will be told how to report something to authorities.

In catching suspected human traffickers, timing is important as they are often moving from place to place. So the reporting by motel staff is a crucial early component of responding to human trafficking.

The motel program is designed to put the squeeze on human traffickers. If they know they are being watched and that there are no safe havens for them, it discourage trafficking. Those seeking the sexual encounters peddled by traffickers will also be discouraged.

The Grand Island Area Coalition on Trafficking, the Grand Island YWCA and the Heartland United Way are doing a great community service in taking the lead on the motel program. However, they need the community’s help.

They are seeking volunteers to go and provide the training to motel staff. The training for the volunteers will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 14, at the YWCA. Lunch will be provided.

To volunteer, go to www.heartlandunitedway.org or call the YWCA at (308) 384-9922.

These volunteers will be helping to make Grand Island and Nebraska a safer place and help put an end to human trafficking.

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