Paula Bosh, FBI victim specialist, talks about her experience working with sex trafficking victims during a law enforcement training last fall. Windie Lazenko, founder of 4her North Dakota, is at right. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service
By Amy Dalrymple
Forum News Service
When Paula Bosh meets with potential victims of human trafficking, she doesn’t open with “Hi, I’m with the FBI.”
Instead, the victim specialist based in Minot, N.D., eases into conversations by telling women she works with victims of crime and she wants to help.
“I’m a middle-aged white woman with no gun and no badge,” Bosh said in an interview with Forum News Service. “It’s a pretty non-threatening way to start the process of trusting law enforcement.”
Police and prosecutors say gaining a victim’s trust is key to convicting traffickers.
Bosh, one of four FBI victim specialists based in North Dakota, covers the northwest region of the state. Her role used to focus on crimes on American Indian reservations, but the oil boom has changed her job description, along with that of her colleagues. Now she focuses on victims of crimes in the rapidly growing Oil Patch communities.
“Everybody’s doing eight things at once,” Bosh said of law enforcement and victim service providers in the Oil Patch. “I’m running like a chicken with my head cut off.”
Bosh has held her job for 11 years, but it wasn’t until recently that she began working human trafficking cases. She estimates she’s worked with 12 victims of sex trafficking in the past 1½ years in North Dakota. All were women.
“They seem to be coming from all over,” said Bosh, adding that increased awareness about trafficking likely contributes to the increase in cases.
When a potential trafficking victim is referred to Bosh by an agent or a victim service provider, she talks to her but can’t take an official statement. That is an advantage, Bosh says, because it helps her build a relationship and establish trust.
“It’s just about letting them know that I am there to try to help if that’s what they want,” Bosh said. “And if they don’t want, that’s OK, they can call me later. Just letting them know they have some options.”
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asked for a victim advocate for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation who would have a similar role as Bosh but at the state level. It’s included in the governor’s budget proposal.
Bosh also works closely with Windie Lazenko, a sex trafficking survivor who assists victims in the Bakken.
“She has a deeper understanding of what these girls are going through than the rest of us do and she has a way of talking to them that they’re very comfortable with,” said Bosh, who serves on the board of Lazenko’s organization, 4her North Dakota.
Bosh helps connect the women with resources, which have often been in other states since North Dakota does not have a shelter dedicated to sex trafficking victims.
Bosh tries to keep in touch with the women, often through text messages. She suspects some may have gone back to a life of prostitution.
“I worry about some of them,” she said. “I hope that I’m able to convey a message where they know there’s help here if they want it or if they need it.”