“There’s a perception that human trafficking looks like the movie Taken. Girls who are being kidnapped and held against their will,” says Amy Jacobson, Western Navigator with the non-profit organization, Youthworks.
But it’s not that simple. Human trafficking can be much more subtle, dangerous, and difficult to tackle.
“We have always had trafficking in North Dakota. And we have trafficking on eastern North Dakota as well as Western North Dakota. So it is not just in response to the oil boom. It really is something that has been around forever,” says Jacobson.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp met with law enforcement personnel and advocates to learn what needs to be done to tackle the issue. She heard about the difficulty of retrieving data from apps like Snapchat and how it can hinder investigations. She also heard suggestions about creating a database to track information on known human traffickers.
“I really feel there needs to be a collaboration. And that was said over and over today. I would love if we all knew what the numbers are. Because sometimes I feel like we can disappear, we as this portion of the state because we’re on the other side of where so much is going on,” says Jennifer Winter, McKenzie County division coordinator with the Family Crisis Shelter.
In Williams and McKenzie County alone, there were 29 human trafficking victims that the Family Crisis Shelter worked with last year.
“We’re starting to climb again. It’s definitely higher than 16, 2016,” says Winter.
Heitkamp ended the discussion with the words “Don’t give up”, and a promise to look into the concerns raised.
The Family Crisis Shelter in Williston has worked with 7 human trafficking victims so far this year from Williams and McKenzie Counties.