If you think we are somehow insulated from human/sex trafficking in North Dakota, think again. While it is hard to get concrete numbers on the underground world of human trafficking, it is accurate to say there is no community in the state safe from it. And young teen girls are the primary target. It is estimated as many as 100,000 missing children have been forced into prostitution each year in the U.S.
Check Internet sites and you will find 30-50 new postings daily offering services of prostitution — and that’s just for one city in North Dakota. While we may think the prostitution business may be only thriving in northwestern North Dakota, it covers the entire state. And with the huge influence of the multibillion dollar pornography industry on the Internet, the U.S. trafficking industry has grown to $9.8 billion.
Why should we be surprised that the high demand for these young girls would result in the highly competitive, solicit-at-any-cost illegal practice of acquiring a stable of captives? And they are captives.
Federal law criminalizes human trafficking, and in 2009, North Dakota changed state law. Since then, the prevalence of sex trafficking has increased and we need to respond. The North Dakota Family Alliance is partnering with the newly formed Voice for the Captives and other Christian groups to fight this inhuman atrocity.
Trafficking involves force, fraud, coercion, enticement, harboring, transporting and promotion of the captives. It is a dark industry affecting the most vulnerable among us.
Small-time pimps dominate the trafficking industry. It is important to be able to identify who they are. It may be that new
24-year-old, smooth-talking young man showing up in the community; it may be a friend of the family, or even a family member.
A 15-year-old girl working as a waitress is promised 10 times her wages and tips, and at the beginning all seems innocent enough. But before she knows it, she is full of guilt and shame and she is beholden emotionally, financially, and sometimes even physically. It seems impossible to break free. It seems as if there is nowhere to turn.
All seems hopeless. Ironically, the only security seems to rest in the one holding her captive.
We need to step up. We need to be that security that restores the hope.
What can we do? First, we need to raise the level of awareness, and then train teachers, law enforcement, counselors, parents, church staff, and children how to recognize the tactics of the trafficker. We need to prevent trafficking.
Next, we need to rescue those held in captivity. We need to provide a safe transition out of their bondage, addressing their needs emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually. Some of this may need legislative action, but much can be addressed by our churches and civic organizations.
And finally, we need to prosecute those guilty of these barbaric actions. We need to provide law enforcement with the resources to identify the traffickers and bring them to justice.
The North Dakota Family Alliance, along with coalition members including Voice for the Captives will meet with the state superintendent of public instruction to discuss informing parents and students, and then meet with the state attorney general about enforcement.
For more information or an opportunity to become involved, please contact Lisa at Atonement Lutheran Church with the Voice for the Captives at 701-237-9651 or Carly with the North Dakota Family Alliance.
(Tom Freier is the executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance.)