A Plea For The Future: Getting out is hard. It's hard, but it is possible. And what does 'getting out' mean? Because we will never be able to erase what we've been through. Breaking Free never promised that it would go away from me. I'm a survivor or terroristic torture, domestic violence, rape, homelesness, drug addiction and incarceration. I've been beaten with baseball bats, two-by-fours, metal pipes, gasoline poured on me, surrounded by 15 guys, beaten and left for dead. How do you get me over that? Breaking Free helped me learn to deal with it and not let it control me. They showed me how it's not me. It's something I was involved in, but it's not who I am. They helped me see that I am a beautiful, black, strong woman and I got kids and grandkids and I got to see them all born and my life is fantastic. I matter.
Sex trafficking survivor and director of training and outreach for Breaking Free in St. Paul
Photo above: Sex trafficking survivors Heidi Carlson, left, and Joy Friedman greet one another at Breaking Free in St. Paul. - Photo by Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service
By Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service
You identify a young woman, a girl maybe, lured or coerced into a life of sex for money in the hard, scrambling towns of the North Dakota oil boom. You see her, reach her, offer her hope for something better, and she says yes, please, help me.
Advocates fighting sex trafficking in North Dakota say they sometimes wonder what the point is of rescuing victims when those people, often broke and broken, have nowhere to go -- no shelter where they could begin to put their lives back together.
Law enforcement officers, social service providers and others in North Dakota are becoming better trained to identify victims of human trafficking. But where to take them after they’ve been rescued frequently becomes a dicey question.
North Dakota and South Dakota are among the 19 states offering no shelters for victims of sex trafficking, according to a 2013 American Bar Association report.
In Minnesota, which recently implemented a Safe Harbor law that treats minors engaged in commercial sex as victims, 23 beds are now dedicated to housing for underage sex trafficking victims. That is an increase from six beds, resulting from state funding as well as private fundraising.
Breaking Free, a St. Paul program that helps sexually exploited women and girls, recently opened a shelter for underage victims in addition to its adult housing programs.
“One of the core pieces of our program is housing because how do you begin to rebuild your life if you don’t even know where you’re gonna lay your head,” said Joy Friedman, director of training and outreach for Breaking Free.
Minnesota has invested $5 million in state funding in 2013 and 2014 for housing for sex trafficking victims, as well as other victim services.
Currently in North Dakota, domestic violence shelters are providing housing to adult sex trafficking victims and Youthworks, the state’s homeless youth program, serves some minor victims.
But those programs are already struggling to keep up with the state’s growing population with funding levels that have not increased, despite a growing state surplus.
Efforts are ongoing to raise private funding for shelters for sex trafficking victims.
Windie Lazenko, founder of 4herND, would like to build a 30-day crisis shelter in the Bakken.
Melissa Ragusse, executive director of a group she founded called 1ForceUnited, is working to raise funds to develop a 12- to 15-bed housing facility for trafficking victims in Cass County.
But some say more study is needed to determine what the right model is for North Dakota.
Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, said the shelters work well in Minnesota, but that state has a greater population with a concentrated metro area.
“It makes sense for them to take money and apply it directly toward victim-centered type housing,” said Mooney, an active participant in statewide anti-trafficking discussions. “Here in North Dakota, maybe that takes on a different look.”
In North Dakota, perhaps the answer is to expand existing operations or services, she said.
Community groups in South Dakota have had similar discussions about whether a shelter exclusively for trafficking victims is feasible.
“It’s tougher for us in rural states like the Dakotas because although this does absolutely happen here, it’s not the everyday occurrence that you have in Minneapolis, where you could have a large facility full of just trafficking victims,” said South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson.
Christina Sambor, project coordinator for North Dakota’s anti-trafficking coalition FUSE, said North Dakota will need to seriously study the feasibility of sustaining a budget and staff for a secure shelter that operates 24/7 and the other services that would need to be provided.
“Opening up a shelter is no small feat,” Sambor said.
John Vanek, an anti-trafficking consultant who led training sessions in North Dakota this fall, said a shelter that opened in California was well-intended but wasn’t able to fulfill the victims’ needs. The facility did not provide clients with transportation to medical appointments, which were often one or two hours away, said Vanek, a retired lieutenant with San Jose Police Human Trafficking Task Force.
“They’re warm and they’re fed and they have a place to sleep, but that only speaks to potentially a small portion of their overall needs,” Vanek said.
Meanwhile in North Dakota, crisis centers have seen numbers of domestic violence and sexual assault victims double and triple - in the east as well as the Oil Patch, said Janelle Moos, executive director of CAWS North Dakota, which represents the 20 domestic violence programs in the state.
Five of the eight domestic violence shelters in North Dakota need to either expand or build new facilities, Moos said. Those facilities are in Dickinson, Williston, Devils Lake, Grafton and Grand Forks. The Minot shelter needs help to buy down significant construction loans it took on to expand, she said.
“They’re really at a critical stage right now,” Moos said.
CAWS is in the beginning stages of working with legislators on a proposal for this legislative session to support or expand the domestic violence shelters.
Regardless of whether a new shelter is the answer or expanding existing programs, victim service providers say the state needs to provide funding to serve human trafficking victims.
“We’re not receiving a separate source of funding to provide what could be very long-term and critical services that these human trafficking victims need,” Moos said.