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Human Trafficking Commission holds inaugural meeting

BISMARCK – Members of a newly created Human Trafficking Commission assembled for the first time Monday to address a societal scourge that has accompanied North Dakota’s economic success and identify the best uses for $1.25 million provided by lawmakers for victim services.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said services are already being provided in different areas of the state, and the commission will look at what’s available, what’s working and what’s missing.

“We have quite an agenda here to work on,” he said at the Capitol.

The state Legislature passed a bill in April establishing a Human Trafficking Commission made up of state, local and tribal agencies, nongovernmental organizations that work with victims of sex trafficking and other groups and people with expertise on the subject.

Among the group’s tasks are developing a comprehensive plan for victim services, collecting data and raising public awareness about human trafficking and coordinating training for state and local employees on trafficking prevention and victim services.

Lawmakers also provided $750,000 for grants for prevention and treatment services for victims in hub cities in oil-producing counties during the 2015-17 biennium, and $500,000 for the same purposes in non-oil-producing counties.

Christina Sambor, director of North Dakota’s anti-sex trafficking coalition, FUSE, or “a Force to end Human Sexual Exploitation,” spent part of Monday’s meeting reviewing a number of new state laws that took effect Aug. 1 and are aimed at helping victims, making it easier to prosecute human traffickers and imposing harsher penalties.

Sambor said more than two-thirds of victims have experienced homelessness and mental, physical or emotional disabilities, and the effects of human trafficking have put increased demands on law enforcement, social services, shelters and others.

“This is something that affects all of us,” she said, noting it’s a challenging issue to address, “and it takes this kind of collaborative approach to do it well.”

The commission’s more than a dozen members include a district court judge, state officials and lawmakers, agents from state and federal law enforcement agencies, a sex trafficking survivor who now heads a victim assistance program and two clergy members.

“We have a diverse and very capable group of people,” Stenehjem said.

The commission must submit an annual report on human trafficking to the attorney general, governor and Legislature.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.