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Solutions to ending the sex trafficking in the Bakken

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Williston, ND (WDAY TV) - As North Dakota watches oil flow, the state's top federal, state and local officials are joining victim advocates who working in "crisis mode" to address the ugly side emerging from the oil boom.

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The Bakken has attracted, not only workers from around the world, but organized crime who want to take advantage of the free flowing money, by trafficking girls for sex.

These are the front line fighters who are helping crack down on human trafficking here in the Oil Patch.

“Dispatch 4956.”

Local law enforcement like Williams County Deputy Jake Manuel.

“A lot of guys making a lot of money, it is a side effect, it is going to happen.”

With more firepower from the feds and state law enforcement to crack down on sex trafficking, it will be the eyes and ears of locals like Jake to recognize the wrong.

Jake Manuel/Williams Co. Deputy: “It is not a small town anymore it is a big city. The building is catching up with the population, and it is big city problems now and people forget because it was a quiet little town five years ago, not anymore.”

It is called the Bakken's “Dirty Little Secret.” Not street prostitutes working a trucker parking lot in the oil patch, but the deliberate trafficking of young girls, from our own reservations, or out of state.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp/D-North Dakota: “Happening with young girls on our reservations, young disadvantaged, runaways, and vulnerable.”

Brought here to the oil patch. Working in oil country, using the Internet to connect with the thousands of workers here trying to strike it rich.

Windie Lazenko/4-Her North Dakota: “Literally a physical bondage they are living under, rapes, and even chained to beds, not the norm, but it does happen.”

And Windie Lazenko, now a survivor of sex trafficking, is in Williston, trying to make a difference. Taking in girls off the street, from their pimps. Putting them up in her church to keep them safe.

Lazenko: “In the church office trying to make it comfortable as I could, and then I have even brought some home with me, no other options. Because they did not want to go back into the situation they were coming from.”

But there is now widespread training state wide to wage war on trafficking. A multi-pronged approach.

Stephanie Gerhardt/ND Council Abused Women’s Services: “We need everyone involved in this; it is not a one agency, one person problem.”

Suddenly and quietly out here in the oil patch, the Feds are trying to wrestle the sex trafficking to the mat.

Gerhardt: “We have a definite problem out here and we have known it for a while but it has taken awhile to get partners to the table and say how do we combine our efforts.”

Amber Gilmore/Williston Police Dept: “The FBI is here and other agencies they are top priority is sex trafficking getting to the sources and the victims.”

And for the victims, not prosecution or persecution, but compassion.

Heitkamp: “We have to help people recover, often times the aftercare is inadequate.”

Lazenko: “We don't go in there and say we are going to rescue you, you have to change your life, there is so much trauma and mental abuse, they don't know they are a victim.”

Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been championing legislation in Washington and led fact finding missions to Mexico regarding human trafficking.

And non-profits are joining North Dakota's US Attorney in working with truckers to fight human trafficking in the state.

Tim Purdon/US Attorney – North Dakota: “More people equals more crime and what we are seeing is organized criminal elements coming selling drugs, and human trafficking, we have recognized the demand out there. Sting ops there arrests in Williston and 11 in Dickinson. People trying to arrange sexual encounters with underage girls.”

In the end, Senator Heitkamp says it comes down to prosecution, prosecution, prosecution. Get rid of the demand, the supply will leave the state.

And some non-profits here in Fargo are setting up programming to deal with victims of human trafficking.  1-Force United, Voice for the Captive, Youthworks and the YWCA are all involved in helping victims.

For resources on fighting sex trafficking, click here

Read more here: Bakken's "Dirty Little Secret:" Sex Trafficking

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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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