by Sofy Herrera
Whether you know it or not, human trafficking is happening everywhere. This includes Omaha. According to notraffcking.org, “Over 250,000 people are trafficked in the U.S. every year for the purpose of sexual exploitation. With its location along I-80 and I-29, and regular hosting of major sporting events, thousands of these people flow through – or into – the metropolitan area.”
Sophomore Jackie Smith decided to start a new club after traveling to India and realizing that human trafficking was an immense problem. She needed to be cautious as she was visiting. However, she began to think to herself, “I bet this is a bigger problem to local people than it is for the travelers.”
Smith decided to acknowledge this fact and build off of it to form a club that informs students at Marian about the dangers and reality of human trafficking worldwide and in Omaha. She also plans to organize events to help survivors. With 900 individuals being sold for sex every month in Nebraska, 75 percent who are presumedly minors, Smith said she feels that Marian girls should be aware of the signs for their own safety and the safety of those around them.
Marian’s involvement in human trafficking issues is not something new. The Servants of Mary at Marian have been involved for several years.
“We started the Omaha Coalition on Human Trafficking with the Mercy and Notre Dame Sisters in 2013. Sr. Nancy and I are part of the Coalition. The Coalition does education on the issue and training with hotel/motel staffs to recognize the signs of trafficking in their facilities so they can report it. 80 percent of sex trafficking happens in hotels/motels. The Coalition’s three goals are: Realize that it is happened right here, Recognize the signs of it and Respond safely and appropriately,” Sr. Margaret Stratman said.
The sisters are currently busy with other duties, but are hopeful to be able to participate in the club at a later time. They think the most important thing the members of the club realize is that this is a real issue and girls need to keep themselves safe.
On returning from India, Smith said she recalled hearing the College World Series (CWS) was a major hotspot for human trafficking and realized that this issue was not a problem of just one location, but rather the entire world.
“I decided to start the club to stand up for people who are being trafficked because it is a big deal where we live,” Smith said.
“We all go to the CWS and are in public, and it’s important that we look for signs of it and protect each other and to protect ourselves and also to take action against it,” Smith said. Her club will be a foundation for this learning process to begin and for action to take place.
Smith received help starting the club from Spanish teacher Ms. Caitlin Gaule (club moderator) due to her interest in humanities. The plan is for the club to meet twice a month on Wednesdays in the morning before school; the first meeting of the month being focused around education and the second being focused on action.
The club is hoping to host many events next school year to raise awareness through donations and fundraising. The proceeds will be given to the project, started by women, titled “Set Me Free” which helps survivors of human trafficking. The club may work briefly in the summer to plan for the year and to learn more about human trafficking during the CWS.
Ms. Kathy Tocco, who graduated Marian in 1961 and later returned and taught Theology, goes to local hotels to train the workers how to identify customers who could be subjected to human trafficking. She also hopes to be present at the club’s meetings to go more in-depth on the issue and teach girls tactics to be aware and how to take action.
With empowerment being one of Marian’s core values, it is fitting that Marian’s newest club emulates the spread of freedom for all.