Set Me Free Project

CEO/President of the Set Me Free Project, Stephanie Olson educated  community members about human trafficking and prevention how to prevent it Thursday, Jan. 25 in the band room at Neligh-Oakdale High School.

Photo by L. Anderson/NNL

After watching true crime television shows and the movie, "Taken", former Neligh-Oakdale student Kenzie Rudolf decided she wanted to do something about human trafficking.

“This is a real problem and it needs to be talked about,” Rudolf said.

Though she couldn’t put a stop to human trafficking altogether, she thought of another way to help prevent it.

Rudolf was involved in FCCLA at N-O and her project focused on human trafficking awareness. She reached out to a few different agencies to bring a speaker to educate students and the community about human trafficking, but of the agencies she contacted, none of them did public speaking events. The Nebraska Family Alliance was one of the agencies she reached out to about a speaker and they recommended the staff at the Set Me Free Project based out of Omaha.

Rudolf contacted CEO/President Stephanie Olson to arrange a day for it to happen. Olson and members of the team made the trek from Omaha to Neligh to give presentations to both N-O students and the community Thursday, Jan. 25.

Two speakers gave presentations to East Ward students throughout the day while Olson presented to a crowd of ten community members at 7 p.m. in the band room.

Olson spoke of how she became interested in starting the project after she watched, “Taken”, a 2008 thriller starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, whose daughter travels to Europe and is abducted and trafficked.

At the beginning of her presentation, she explained SMFP’s goal.

“Awareness is only good if you teach people how to prevent it. One to two percent of trafficked victims are rescued. If one to two percent of trafficked victims are rescued and the average age is 11 to 19, where do we stop it? Before it starts and that’s our goal,” Olson said.

Though SMFP is heavily involved in educating communities across the country in schools, they do not go out and rescue people nor do they arrest anyone for their crimes. They collaborate with organizations and law enforcement agencies who have that power.

She defined human trafficking “in its very simplest form, is slavery—modern-day slavery. It is the force, fraud or coercion of a human being for the personal profit and gain of another, with limited freedoms and little to no pay or compensation,” Olson said.

Throughout the presentation, Olson disclosed startling facts: The average age boys and girls who are trafficked for boys is 11 and for girls is 12 to 19. She said the sex trafficking business is a $99 billion a year industry and relies on the drug trade, which is another large money-making industry throughout the world.

According to Olson, the two most prevalent markets in human trafficking in Nebraska are sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Infant trafficking, organ harvesting, senior citizen trafficking and child soldiers may not be as “popular” within the state but are booming in other areas of the world.

She advised parents to teach children about social media safety, how to be safe online and educated them on different apps popular with today’s digital-native generation.