Windie Lazenko, founder of 4her North Dakota, which serves victims of sex trafficking and exploitation in North Dakota, and her boyfriend, Larry Medhurst, listen to a panel discussion during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE in Bismarck last November. - Photo by Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service
By Amy Dalrymple and Katherine Lymn
Forum News Service
As a truck driver more than 20 years ago, Larry Medhurst traveled at times with other truckers who wanted to stop by a brothel in Nevada if they were passing through the area.
Medhurst said he never joined them, but he didn’t speak up, either. He would act differently now.
“Knowing what I know now, I would have taken a stand and said, ‘Hey, guys, that’s not what we need to be doing,’” Medhurst said.
While law enforcement ramps efforts to lock up sex traffickers and service providers seek to better help trafficking victims, many say more education aimed at eliminating the demand for commercial sex should also be a priority.
“It’s a man’s issue,” said Medhurst, a Williston man who recently participated in training seminars on human trafficking. “It has to stop with the men. And it’s all of us men who have to hold each other to task.”
Last year, Medhurst began dating Windie Lazenko, founder of 4her North Dakota, an organization that helps victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. The relationship led him to get more educated about sex trafficking, and he began seeing things differently.
Medhurst, general manager of operations for Secure Energy Services in the Bakken, has invited Lazenko to provide training sessions for his employees, and he displays awareness posters at work locations.
Another oil company operating in the Bakken, Enerplus Resources, also is working to promote education and awareness about human trafficking for employees and contractors in North Dakota, said Jessie Koerner, public affairs coordinator.
But Koerner said she wishes more oil industry professionals were working to raise awareness of trafficking in North Dakota.
When asked if oil companies should be engaged in a discussion about human trafficking to address the demand, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the state commission that regulates the oil industry, said it’s “probably a good idea.”
“Generally speaking, it’s an employer-employee situation. We can suggest that employees be counseled, educated and advised on the seriousness of it. That probably would be the first step,” Dalrymple said.
Tessa Sandstrom, spokeswoman for North Dakota Petroleum Council, said while the industry group hasn’t specifically addressed trafficking, individual companies focus heavily on safety and responsibility and their employees are active members of their communities.
“They work very hard to promote social responsibility within their companies,” she said.
Medhurst said he plans to continue educational efforts with his employees, which have been well-received, and he plans to reach out to others in the industry.
“I can influence 100 individuals on the team that I’ve got here in North Dakota,” Medhurst said. “If I can get each of them to influence one more person or just educate their sons, we can end this.”