A recently formed group of concerned citizens seeks to raise awareness about human trafficking.

Invisible Innocence began May 20 and targets the rising issue of human trafficking in North Dakota.

“When we started researching information for (the state),” said Brandi Jude, co-founder of the organization, “we realized there was a bigger issue.”

Increasing accounts of human trafficking in North Dakota has inspired Invisible Innocence to raise awareness of the issue — a difficult task when facts are hard to come by.

“Although we have websites that can give general information for statistics in our state, it is still unknown exactly how many people are directly affected,” said Jude. “Human trafficking is (also) a big problem on reservations, which makes finding information more difficult.”

Despite the lack of information about the issue that could lead to a specific approach, Jude said individuals can still get involved.

“People can research local organizations and ask ... what their involvement is relating to human trafficking victims,” said Jude. “(They) can start participating in events, going to speeches and seminars and educating each other about what they learn.”

Invisible Innocence’s first event, the “Haunted Hustle,” raised awareness for the cause. Sixty participants joined the “Haunted Hustle,” a charity run that took place Oct. 12. The Halloween-themed 5k obstacle course took place at McDowell Dam Nature Park.

Jude considers the run a success.

“We would’ve been excited about one person coming. Our mission is to raise awareness, and it just takes one person to make a change and be a voice for a human trafficking victim.”

Proceeds from the awareness run went toward informational material and future events assisting human sex trafficking victims and survivors.

Jude said that the biggest weapons against human trafficking are education and understanding.

“We have a tendency to pass judgment ... instead of trying to understand the ‘whys’ for what people are doing,” said Jude. “The biggest crime is treating the victims like they are the criminals. Young girls and boys should not be receiving felonies ... for being pimped out, forced into free labor, raped and abused for someone else’s greedy demands.”

Jude said that although awareness of the issue is rising, North Dakota does not yet have any safe homes or counseling programs specifically designed for human trafficking victims.

“We look forward to researching this topic more and sharing the information with the public,” said Jude. “We have bigger dreams that we now know are completely accomplishable, and victims have a voice, even if it’s just a few.”

Invisible Innocence’s mission statement is: “We are grassroots; we come from nothing but are ready to give everything.”

For more information about Invisible Innocence, contact Brandi Jude at (701)-226-9177, via email at awakenintuition@yahoo.com or visit invisibleinnocencend.org.

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Josie Gereszek is an intern at the Bismarck Tribune. Reach Josie Gereszek at 701-250-8260 or josie.gereszek@bismarcktribune.com.