Douglas County, NE
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Douglas County contains over one-fourth of the Nebraska’s residents (566,000), most living in Omaha (population 480,000), the county seat and the state’s largest city. The county also includes unincorporated areas and smaller cities and towns, such as Ralston, Bennington, and Waterloo. Since prostitution and sex trafficking operations cross jurisdictional boundaries, many of the law enforcement responses are multi-jurisdictional collaborations with municipal police and Sheriff’s offices in neighboring communities, such as La Vista (Sarpy County) and Council Bluffs (Iowa).
Prostitution and sex trafficking have presented serious problems for decades within the county, including child sex trafficking and violence committed against prostituted people. For example, in 2011 an investigation revealed a sex trafficking ring that operated out of a midtown Omaha home for about three years, from 2007-2010. Girls and women had been held captive and forced to perform commercial sex acts, and beatings were supplemented with intimidation (such as threatening to cut out a baby from the woman’s uterus) in order to compel service. Federal and local authorities said the ring’s operators exploited women and runaways as young as 13 years of age. Numerous prostituted women have been murdered in the city, leading to speculation that some may have been the victims of a serial killer.
The less serious consequences of prostitution are still problematic for residents, and generate numerous complaints to police. Complaints from residents about prostitution in the areas around Omaha date back to the 1870s, when Omaha and towns like Council Bluffs were Western frontier towns, and continue through the present. For example, in May 2017, a man was arrested by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies for hiring prostituted women to bare their breasts and strip on his neighbor’s porch while he watched and masturbated from his house across the street. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office determined that prostituted women and pimps visited the residence about 75 times, and sometimes kicked on neighbors’ doors, rang doorbells, or had pimps peer into their windows. Sometimes the women became upset because they expected someone at the other houses to pay them, and neighbors noted that some of the young women who showed up at the house may have been 16 or younger.
Various agencies and organizations in the county and surrounding areas have targeted the demand for commercial sex in their efforts to reduce the prevalence and impact of prostitution and sex trafficking. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and collaborating law enforcement agencies have conducted both street-level and web-based reverse stings. Street-level operations targeting male sex buyers date back to at least 1987, when police conducted a reversal at an interstate truck stop near Omaha known for commercial sex activity. For example, in April 2014 a web-based operation resulted in the arrest of 12 sex buyers. In June 2017, a multi-agency effort led to the arrests of 11 people on prostitution related charges in La Vista. The arrests were made as part of a collaboration with the FBI’s Omaha Child Exploitation Task Force. The sting occurred at a time when tens of thousands of people were in Douglas County area for the College World Series. Seven men were booked on a charge of solicitation of prostitution, and ranged from 18 to 63 years old. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were released to news outlets. Investigators used the website Backpage.com, with undercover officers both posting and responding to ads, and then setting up a meeting place where the arrests occurred. Included in the collaborative operation with the FBI’s Omaha Child Exploitation Task Force were police departments from Omaha, Council Bluffs, and Lincoln, and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol.
A variation of the typical web-based reverse sting has been used in the county. Rather than posting an ad on a website ostensibly from a “provider” of commercial sex, Douglas County undercover investigators posing as a 15 year old girl responded to an online ad posted by a 50 year old man man seeking to buy sex. Investigators said the man arranged to meet and exchange $70 for acts of sexual abuse, and when he arrived to complete the transaction he was arrested.
A number of tactics have also been used within the county, including police sending “dear john” letters to the homes of alleged sex buyers. The city of Omaha has had at least one “john school” program (and probably two) for men arrested for buying sex. There have also been public education efforts, such as the statewide “Demand an End” campaign in Nebraska, unveiled in January 2017, which warns buyers of sex that they will face serious prison time if they are caught (among other messages).
- Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
- Omaha Police Department
- La Vista Police Department
- FBI’s Omaha Child Exploitation Task Force
- Council Bluffs Police Department
- Nebraska State Patrol
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “11 Arrested in Prostitution Sting”, NBC/WOWT-TV 6, July 15 2010.
- “35 More Prostitution Arrests”, Omaha World-Herald, April 27 2012.
- “Six Men Arrested for Allegedly Soliciting Prostitutes”, NBC/WOWT-TV 6, November 12 2013.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Craigslist Ads Lead to More Arrests”, ABC/KETV-TV 7, March 5 2009.
- http://www.1011now.com/content/news/Metro-prostitution-sting-nets-12-arrests-423531454.html (2017)
- https://www.ketv.com/douglas-county-man-charged-child-enticement-court (2022)
Neighborhood Action, Identity Disclosure:
- “Billboard Names Anger Some”, NBC/WOWT-TV 6, August 7 2004.
- “Street Prostitution (2nd Edition)”, Michael S. Scott & Kelly Dedel, Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Problem-Specific Guides Series No. 2, U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), November 2006. [NOTE: See page 34]
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Prostitution Arrest Made,” Omaha World-Herald, January 28 2002.
- “Sex Ring’s Victims Describe Their Shame, Suffering,” Omaha World-Herald, February 8 2011.
- “Both Prostitute and Victim, Woman Gets 3 Years,” Omaha World-Herald, February 9 2011.
- “Improved Treatment of Crime Victims Noted; The Bluffs Police Department Gets Credit for Helping Those Forced to Work in a Sex Ring,” Omaha World-Herald, April 18 2011.
- “Three People Sentenced on Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Charges,” Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa, February 22 2012.
- “Prostitution Sting in Bluffs Nets 17 Arrests,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, April 28 2012.
- “FBI: Sex Trafficking Cases Increase; One Victim Says She Was Forced to Have Sex with Men in Council Bluffs Hotel,” ABC/KETV-TV 7, February 27 2013.
- “Man Sentenced for Sex Trafficking in Omaha and Council Bluffs,” NBC/WOWT-TV 6, July 22 2013.
- http://www.omaha.com/news/metro/arrests-made-in-vast-human-trafficking-operation (2018)
- https://www.ketv.com/douglas-county-man-charged-child-enticement-court (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitution Apparently Increasing at Bluffs Truck Stops,” Omaha World-Herald, September 15 1985.
- “‘Vanilla Gorilla’ Uses CB Radio for Bluffs Truck-Stop Busts,” Omaha World-Herald, April 28 1986.
- “Omahan Accused of Pimping in Bluffs,” Omaha World-Herald, October 29 1987.
- “Admitted Prostitute Testifies Bluffs Judge to Determine If Woman Running Brothel,” Omaha World-Herald, January 16 1988.
- “Judge Says Woman Guilty of Pimping,” Omaha World-Herald, January 26 1988.
- “Judge Fines Woman $7,500 for Pimping,” Omaha World-Herald, March 16 1988.
- “Prostitution Suspect Arrested,” Omaha World-Herald, April 3 1995.
- “Two Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, June 22 2005.
- “Escort Service Prostitutes Flourishing in Metro Area; This Discreet Form of Illicit Sex Is Thriving out of the Public’s Sight, Police Say,” Omaha World-Herald, January 8 2006.
- “Pair Arrested for Drugs, Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, October 4 2006.
- “Woman Arrested for Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, July 31 2007.
- “Three Arrested in Prostitution Bust,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, August 15 2007.
- “Two Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, December 15 2007.
- “Sting Nets Three for Prostitution,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, September 11 2009.
- http://www.omaha.com/news/crime/bail-set-at-for-elkhorn-man-accused-of-paying-prostitutes (2017)
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Man Arrested in Council Bluffs in Slaying of Omaha Prostitute,” Omaha World-Herald, December 13 1986.
- “Suspect in Killing of Prostitute to Face Court,” Omaha World-Herald, December 14 1986.
- “Bluffs Man Is Held without Bail in Slaying of Omaha Prostitute,” Omaha World-Herald, December 16 1986.
- “No Bail for 2nd Shooting Suspect,” Omaha World-Herald, December 17 1986.
- “Hearing Indicates Robbery Was Motivation in Prostitute’s Death,” Omaha World-Herald, December 23 1986.
- “Man Pleads No Contest to 2nd Degree Murder,” Omaha World-Herald, October 1 1987.
- “Murderer Gets 20-Year Term,” Omaha World-Herald, December 17 1987.
- “Sheriff’s Deputies Investigating Alleged Rape,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, May 17 2010.
- “Woman Allegedly Raped; Good Samaritan Took Victim to Hospital,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, May 18 2010.
- “Rapist to Spend Rest of Life in Prison,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, September 10 2011.
- “Mills Sentenced for Three of Four Rapes of Women in Bluffs,” Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, March 22 2012.
- “Omaha Man Guilty in Shooting Death of Pimp,” Omaha World-Herald, June 25 2015.
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