Watford City To Host Human Trafficking Awareness Event

Every growing community is faced with new issues. The expanding industry and population of western North Dakota has brought about awareness of previously un-addressed types of exploitation. While many have heard of human trafficking, they generally associate it with sex trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. However, another component of human trafficking is labor trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. Hospitality, agriculture, and other labor-focused industries are most likely to be affiliated with labor trafficking. Communities facing labor shortages and high demand for their services must be informed about labor trafficking in order to identify and prevent its occurrence.

A group of Watford City and McKenzie County individuals have taken action to help their community better understand these issues. Partnering with 31:8 Project, a North Dakota nonprofit that provides education about human trafficking, Watford City will host the 2nd Annual Bakken Human Trafficking Summit (BHTS) on Thursday, June 23. "This year's Summit provides us opportunities to learn about various aspects of human trafficking locally and across North Dakota. Trafficking takes place online, in businesses, schools, on streets, in homes, and it happens here. If you live here, you can be part of solutions to this problem," says BHTS Advisory Committee Co-Chair, Marcia Hellandsaas. Hellandsaas is an NDSU Extension/McKenzie County Extension Agent and has worked to build partnerships with local businesses and community leaders to plan the Summit.

The Summit features keynotes and breakout sessions led by industry experts such as law enforcement, healthcare professionals, social service providers, and survivors of human trafficking. Topics range from helping runaway youth to a case study of a North Dakota human trafficking operation that concluded with the prosecution of a trafficker. "We have a full, educational and inspiring agenda planned for this year's Bakken Human Trafficking Summit. I urge members of this community to attend and learn more about how to tackle issues relating to human trafficking," says Hellandsaas.

"People think that human trafficking only occurs in places with a lot of people and activities, like large cities. They don't think it's something that would happen in North Dakota," says Rwatie Matsika, North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force (NDHTTF) Statewide Labor Trafficking Specialist. Since its inception, the NDHTTF has served over 650 victims of human trafficking. "The labor trafficking cases we've identified in North Dakota are coming from the hospitality industry, people working in restaurants or hotels. Anyone can be a victim. But if there is community awareness, that gives a person an advantage. They know what to be looking for and if something doesn't seem right." Matsika will provide an educational breakout session during this year's Summit. The morning keynote will also focus on labor trafficking and features speakers from the Agricultural Worker Project of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

The Summit opens on June 22 with a free Community Social, 5-7 p.m. at McKenzie County Heritage Park. This portion of the BHTS will include a community panel that features law enforcement; survivors of human trafficking; and Desiree Sorenson, a local service provider. The panel will be moderated by McKenzie County Commissioner Joel Brown.

The main Summit event takes place, 8 a.m.–5 p.m., June 23 at the Rough Rider Center. Attendees will be informed about sex and labor trafficking in North Dakota and across the nation. This event is open to the public. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, discretion is advised. Attendees who are eligible to receive continuing education credit and hours for professional development can learn more on the BHTS Eventbrite page. Tickets are $50 and scholarships are available. To register for the event, visit http://www.eventbrite.com and search for "The Bakken Human Trafficking Summit," or find 31:8 Project on Facebook.

Hellandsaas says, " I would like to see healthcare workers, law enforcement, school personnel, counselors, church pastors, as well as community residents attend this Summit. The agenda has been designed to be a valuable learning experience for entire communities."


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