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Bakken's "Dirty Little Secret": Sex Trafficking

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Williston, ND (WDAY TV) - It should come as no surprise that with the "Boom in the Bakken," an ugly side of supply and demand has followed the success of oil out west.

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Sex Trafficking.

In the last month alone, a half dozen symposium and training seminars in Fargo for law enforcement and non-profits who are seeing the fallout from the sex trafficking explosion in the Oil Patch.

Tonight, a look at what is happening there; the victims, and those who are trying to help.

Sure we here in North Dakota like to brag about this. 

Countless barrels of oil, a seemingly endless supply of money. 

The envy of America. But then we hear and see this.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp/D-North Dakota: “Not just pimping out the runaway but the systematic connected with what we believe is organized crime.”

It is no secret, prostitution in the oil patch is rampant, but the bigger problem, sex trafficking and the dangerous shadow is behind it.

Windie Lazenko/4-Her North Dakota: “It is operating like it would in the big city, through www.backpage.com but there are hotels acting as brothels and strip clubs are contributing to the trafficking.”

Windie Lazenko knows the system. Now living in Williston and helping sex trafficking victims.

Lazenko: “And so I experienced my first incident of being trafficked at 13-years old.”

Lazenko was pimped out as a teenager and for years was trapped in the world of trafficking as a victim.

Today a survivor, founder of 4-Her. Rescuing and working with prostitutes trying to escape their traffickers. 

Lazenko: “People in law enforcement tell me, you are aware these people are present aren't you, and are trafficking, be careful?”

With so many out of state workers, men here in the Oil Patch have time and money. Just what sex traffickers and organized crime here want to hear.

Joy Friedman/Breaking Free Dir.: “Such a high scale, it is like, where you think it is not, it has been, open your eyes, this is in our back yard it has been in our backyard.

Joy Friedman of Minnesota Based Breaking Free also survived years as a victim of sex trafficking and recently returned from the Oil Patch.

Friedman: “What Breaking Free is all about is the demand, you take away the demand, the supply will go because the traffickers are selling what the buyers are buying which are women, girls, children.”

But right now in the oil patch, North Dakota is mobilizing itself as if going to war.

More ammunition with extra bodies, from the Federal, State and local Law Enforcement levels.

Victim advocates, physicians, prosecutors, judges, all on board as North Dakota attempts to lasso this part of the Wild West that for too long, watched this disturbing problem get roots and take hold.

Tomorrow night at ten, answers. What do we do about it.

Senator Heitkamp and US Attorney Tim Purdon say Human Trafficking involving labor, is also a growing problem in oil country.

More on "solutions" tomorrow night at ten.     

For more resources to stop sex trafficking click here.

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Kevin Wallevand
Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia and the Middle East. He is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award recipient.
(701) 241-5317
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