Report provides victim's perspective on sex trafficking

July 15, 2016, 6:45 a.m. ·

Trafficking survivors Sakura Yodogawa-Campbell (L) and Rachel Pointer (R) speak at the “Nothing About Us, Without Us" report event. (Photo courtesy Women's Fund of Omaha)

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A new report examines sex trafficking in Nebraska, the problem and solutions, from the perspective of those who have been trafficked.

The report is called “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” The title reflects the goal of the study, which is giving trafficking survivors a stronger voice in discussions of how to fight it.

It was commissioned by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, which held an event earlier this week in Omaha to unveil the report. Meghan Malik is trafficking response coordinator for the Women’s Fund and works closely with the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force.

“The task force will be able to use this report to inform statewide strategies that will emphasize services for survivors while holding offenders accountable,” Malik said at the Omaha event. “This report provides a path to ensure that the voice of survivors inform both our process and our efforts.”

“This is where we need to again come together as a community and again elevate the voices of those who’ve been there,” said Rachel Pointer. She was one of two sex trafficking survivors who spoke at the event. Pointer was first sold for sex when she was six-years-old; now helps other survivors through a group she co-founded, the Free the People Movement.

“We’re the ones who know, on a soul level, what this does to you. We’re also the ones who know, on a head level, what we need to get out of it,” Pointer said.

Twenty-two women and girls from Omaha and Lincoln were interviewed in-depth for the study, which was conducted by two University of Nebraska researchers: Shireen Rajaram from the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Sriyani Tidball from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The study found “that a high level of ignorance about sex trafficking exists among all segments of society, including parents, the general public, and professionals such as law enforcement and healthcare professionals,” and because of this “women are often blamed, stigmatized, and held criminally responsible, despite being prostituted against their will.”

It also noted that “to improve early screening and detection of sex trafficking survivors, it is essential to provide education and training of front-line professionals such as healthcare workers, law enforcement personnel, social service providers, hotel employees, and the like who may encounter survivors in their professional roles.”

Women who had been trafficked also told the researchers more help is needed for survivors, including trafficking-specific safe houses, and substance abuse, mental health and life skills programs.

“I think our state does a really good job of responding to the immediate crisis,” said Sakura Yodogawa-Campbell, a crime victim advocate in Sarpy County and trafficking survivor who also spoke at the Women’s Fund event. “We’ve got several task forces in place, we’ve got 24-hour crisis lines. We have agencies that I think do a great job of responding to the immediate crisis. But where we fall short again is the long term. We’re talking five, 10 years even after the trauma has been experienced. There’s not a lot of support for survivors to turn to in our communities. And that is a huge gap.”

“Yes, right now that immediate need needs to be filled,” Pointer added. “We need shelter right away. We need to be seeing doctors, getting those physical needs addressed. Seeing a therapist. Those kinds of things. But tomorrow I’m still going to need somebody. And the tomorrow after that I’m still going to need somebody.”

Both Yodagawa-Campbell and Pointer said it is vital survivors like themselves are heard and involved, as policy makers are working to fight trafficking and help victims. They praised the information and recommendations from the report, but with this reminder: years after being trafficked, they’re still dealing with it. So those working on the issue also need to be in it “for the long haul.”