It’s an unfortunate reality seen throughout the world: where there are men and money, there are prostitutes. And where there are prostitutes, there are victims of human trafficking. While it’s no secret that human trafficking victims are being bought and sold every day in the United States, many people purchasing sex are unaware that the prostitute they hired may be a human trafficking victim. This lack of awareness has allowed the industry to continue to profit, especially in prosperous, male-dominated regions such as North Dakota with the financial boom in the state’s oil-rich Bakken region. The highly skewed male-to-female ratio is proving problematic, prompting many to seek out prostitutes. Although prostitution is currently illegal in North Dakota and is classified as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, the demand for prostitutes has never been higher in the Roughrider State.
Windie Jo Lazenko is an advocate for human trafficking victims who founded 4Her North Dakota — a ministry that helps educate the public and advocate for victims in the hope of eradicating human trafficking for the purpose of sex in the United States. Lazenko told MintPress that the number of trafficking victims in the state is higher than many people realize. Unlike several other states that have been proactive in implementing tougher laws, North Dakota is still struggling to educate the public and law enforcement officials about prostitution and human trafficking. By failing to educate the public and law enforcement, , awareness for the darker side of the sex industry is limited in North Dakota. But that may soon be changing.
North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer and Representative Erik Paulsen of Minnesota met with North Dakota’s Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and state law enforcement officials to discuss growing concerns related to human trafficking in the state, as well as ways North Dakota’s human trafficking epidemic could be helped by national efforts. Stenehjem also discussed the implementation of safe harbor legislation that would guide law enforcement to assist victims of human trafficking instead of arresting them for prostitution.
Though not all states have asked for federal assistance in combating human trafficking, Stenehjem says that national assistance is required in North Dakota because “these are not localized enterprises, these are nationwide, even international” operations. Despite the size of the problem, anti-trafficking advocates say North Dakota only has one FBI agent currently working on human trafficking cases.
Lazenko cautions that none of the tactics to combat trafficking will be enough as long as there is a demand for sex workers, which is what creates an opportunity for pimps and traffickers to exploit men and women, boys and girls. “Men who purchase sex are under the impression that women are willing and want to do this as a way to support themselves,” she said. That may be the case in a small percentage of cases, she says, but the majority of the men and women — both underage and adult — selling their bodies are being exploited. The only way to truly set them free is to end the demand for sex.
Learn more at Katie Rucke’s Mint Press News article: North Dakota Asks Nation For Help In Human Trafficking Epidemic.