Reducing recidivism: how one program is decreasing demand for prostitution in the state

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2015 saw some of the highest levels of prostitution the state has seen in the past few years — prompting the passage of several laws to address the problem. The most recent data shows there’s been a significant drop. But those working to combat human trafficking say it’s still a problem.

Since 2006, Stacy Schaffer has been working to combat human trafficking in North Dakota.

“When we talk about this actually being an issue, it is here. It’s not just in our big cities either, it’s in our rural communities,” Schaffer said.

Her latest venture? Reducing recidivism, or re-offense rates, of those who pay for prostitution.

“The chance to actually work on the other side and understand how do we reduce demand was such a great opportunity for me,” Schaffer said.

She coordinates the Demand Reduction Program, which came out of the 2015 legislative session as a partnership between the Attorney General’s office and University of Mary’s criminal justice department.

“Essentially it’s a sentencing diversion program for individuals who purchase others for prostitution over the age of 18,” Schaffer said.

The program involves a daylong class for those convicted — covering the damaging effects of human trafficking not just to the victim, but the buyer and community at large.

“We actually take a pretest and a post-test for this program. What we find is that peoples’ train of thought and thinking about the topic completely changes from the beginning of the class.”

Since 2016, North Dakota’s Human Trafficking Task Force has helped close to 500 survivors get back on their feet, 80 percent of whom were from North Dakota. Bismarck Police Department Sergeant Mike Bolme says it’s more of a problem than people think.

“We do indeed have prostitution here, but just because it’s not out on the street corners like it is in the bigger cities doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Bolme said.

Bolme has seen the law enforcement side of prostitution. He says he fully believes in the efficacy of the program.

“I can tell you that we haven’t had a recidivist actor since we started the program,” Bolme said. “They realize the damage that they’re doing and that it’s not just a harmless business transaction.”

Schaffer says one of the biggest challenges since the first class happened three years ago is simply awareness.

“We spend a lot of time educating judges, prosecutors, law enforcement so they know this program exists,” Schaffer said.

It’s offered quarterly, and costs $500 per participant, paid for by the offender. Schaffer says if you suspect human trafficking to call 911, or the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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