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Scottsbluff is a city of about 14,000 residents located in southwestern Nebraska, near the Wyoming border, in Scotts Bluff County. Authorities at local, state, and federal levels have identified the city’s proximity to Interstate 80 (specifically, located on the highway connecting Interstate’s 25 and 80) to be the primary factor in the level of prostitution and sex trafficking activity. Traffickers generally operate along Interstate 80 and in larger cities, although their reach extends statewide. Reports have identified major trafficking hotspots in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff, and surrounding communities, with much of the activity in smaller cities occurring at numerous truck stops. According to the human trafficking coordinator for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, “Even if you just followed the major interstate system all the way from Omaha out through Scottsbluff, there is measurable sex trafficking that occurs virtually all the time. Particularly during major events, but all the time, across all of Nebraska.” A former FBI agent who investigated trafficking cases for more than 20 years, including work out of the Omaha-area office, said the Interstate drives trafficking in Nebraska because “… they can just stop at a rest stop, knowing that they don’t have to move, that the business is going to come to them… Again, with cellphones or smartphones, all the buyer has to do is look on his phone for particular cities, states, rest stops, exits, and see if there’s a person for sale.” In one case, investigators alleged two women recruited a victim in Arkansas, brought her to central Nebraska, advertised her on Backpage.com, and sold her for sex at a motel near a truck stop in the area. In January 2021, three individuals were arrested following a multi-agency sex trafficking investigation in Scotts Bluff County following the execution of multiple search warrants in Scottsbluff and Gering. One man was arraigned in District Court on on two counts of Sex Trafficking and one count of 1st Degree Forcible Sexual Assault- all Class 2 Felonies. The others were charged with Sex Trafficking, two counts of Possession of a Short Rifle, and Possession of Methamphetamine, and Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person and Possession of Methamphetamine, respectively.
To address consumer-level demand that drives both prostitution and sex trafficking markets, at least one web-based reverse sting has been conducted in Scottsbluff, resulting in four men being arrested on prostitution and sex trafficking charges in December 2017. The Scottsbluff Police Department and the Panhandle Regional Team of the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force conducted an investigation of subjects interested in purchasing sex from adult and minor females. Four men responded to online advertisements and exchanged text messages with investigators before meeting undercover officers under the pretense of paying for sex acts. Two men replied to an advertisement and each allegedly agreed to pay $300 to sexually abuse a 15-year-old girl and her mother. Under an amended Nebraska sex trafficking law (LB289), those who solicit minors for sex can be prosecuted as “traffickers”, the penalty for which is 20 years to life imprisonment. The other two men responded to ads indicating that the prostituted person was an adult, and each was charge with solicitation of prostitution, Class I misdemeanor. The names and birth dates of the four men were publicly released. The investigation was a collaborative effort of nine different agencies including the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, the Scotts Bluff County Attorney’s Office, the Salvation Army, the Nebraska State Patrol, the Scottsbluff Police Department, the Gering Police Department, the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office, the Sidney Police Department, and the Alliance Police Department.
In addition to sting operations, sex buyers may be arrested as the product of investigations or enforcement operations of real offenses against victims. For example, in August 2021, a 46-year-old Scottsbluff man was accused of asking a 17-year-old girl to send him nude photos in exchange for money. The man was charged with sex trafficking of a minor, a Class IB felony; possession of child pornography (i.e., child sexual abuse materials), a Class IIA felony; and attempted incest, a Class IIA felony. Scottsbluff Police were contacted in December 2020 by a local counselor who had a 17-year-old client who had reported messages that were sexual in nature involving the suspect. The teen said she had been asked by a man on Facebook for nude photos in return for money. The girl admitted to sending photos, though she had covered her “private parts.” The girl said she questioned the identity of the man, believing she had determined the man’s real identity as a family member due to the conversation. Police had previously investigated reports involving the man making sexual comments to the girl. The girl then messaged the man’s actual account, and he sent the girl sexual comments. Police obtained a search warrant and were able to tie both accounts to the suspect’s cell phone. A search of his account also showed multiple screenshots of a nude female with digital markings over portions of her body to conceal them. A warrant for the man’s arrest was issued and he was arrested, then was arraigned in Scotts Bluff County Court and bond was set at $250,000.
Loss of employment is another consequence of sex buying that has occurred in the city. For example, in October 2011, a former Scottsbluff firefighter pleaded no contest to a charge of soliciting prostitution during a Scotts Bluff County Court pre-trial conference on the charge, which is a Class I misdemeanor. At the time of the incident, the man was employed as a firefighter with the Scottsbluff Fire Department. He was placed on paid administrative leave, but submitted his resignation soon afterward. He was also a paramedic at a local ambulance service for four years. As a result of his arrest, the fire department and the ambulance service terminated the sex buyer’s employment. The charge stemmed from a complaint by a former employee of the defendant. She said a female employee had been trying to collect about $280 in money that was owed to her for work she had performed in his painting business. The woman received a text message from the man telling her that he had the money and asked her if she wanted to double the money. She had asked him for clarification when he told her she could double the money by performing a sex act. The man then sent a series of texts to the woman and arrived at a location, expecting her to perform the sex act. The woman employee was also accompanied by her boyfriend and had contacted police. In 2012, the sex buyer was sentenced to two years of supervised probation, 14 Saturdays in jail, was required to complete treatment, and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The judge also ordered the sex buyer to serve 75 hours of community service with an organization aimed at helping women who have suffered abuse.
- Scottsbluff Police Department
- Scottsbluff County Sheriff’s Office
- Nebraska Attorney General’s Office
- Nebraska Human Traffickng Task Force
- Scottsbluff County Attorney’s Office
- Salvation Army
- Nebraska State Patrol
- Sidney Police Department
- Alliance Police Department
- Gering Police Department
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Identity Disclosure:
- http://www.starherald.com/news/local_news/four-men-arrested-on-soliciting-prostitution-charges (2018)
- http://www.knopnews2.com/content/news/Four-arrested-in-Panhandle-Region-Human-Trafficking-Task-Force-sting (2018)
- http://www.starherald.com/news/local_news/men-arrested-in-sex-trafficking-sting-responded-to-online-ads (2018)
- http://www.kgwn.tv/content/news/Wyoming-man-arrested-during-prostitution-sting-in-Nebraska (2018)
Sex Buyer Arrest, Identity Disclosure:
Loss of Employment:
- https://starherald.com/news/article (2011)
- https://starherald.com/news/local/former-firefighter-sentenced-to-probation-on-prostitution-charge (2012)
Background on Local Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:
- http://norfolkdailynews.com/news/nebraska-human-trafficking-bill-seeks-to-help-survivors (2018)
- http://netnebraska.org/article/news/1027545/sex-trafficking-happens-nebraskas-smaller-towns (2018)
- https://kneb.com/regional-news/men-arrested-in-january-sex-trafficking-investigation-have-cases-bound-to-district (2021)