Labor trafficking in Nebraska, how prevalent is it? UNO research team aims to find out.

By: - August 14, 2023 7:32 pm

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

OMAHA — Local university researchers are embarking on a two-year probe into how widespread illegal labor trafficking is in Nebraska.

Boosted by a roughly $500,000 grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the project is led by Teresa Kulig and Sadaf Hashimi, both assistant professors of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Teresa Kulig, Ph.D., (left) and Sadaf Hashimi, Ph.D., (right), assistant professors in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (Courtesy of UNO)

Kulig said that while more attention has been shed on sex trafficking, little is known about labor trafficking crimes in Nebraska.

A goal of the study, she said, is to help agencies — including law enforcement, legal services and community advocates — improve identification and responses to human labor trafficking.

The research team will be surveying various sources to learn more about targets, industries and how crimes may be  carried out.

A rule of thumb, Kulig said, is that victims of labor trafficking aren’t able to leave the job for another. They can be pulled into domestic or agricultural servitude, for example, using fraudulent tactics.

While foreign nationals or immigrants tend to be at greater risk, Kulig said the researchers will cast a wide net to assess other vulnerable populations, including the homeless and substance abuse addicts.

“Labor trafficking can look a lot of different ways, depending on the situation,” Kulig said. 

No one incident motivated the study, Kulig said. Combating human trafficking is a focus area of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

A report is expected in the summer of 2025.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.