Rep. Gail Mooney, Published January 21 2014
Letter: Time to face ugly truth about human traffickingJanuary is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time set aside to raise awareness of an insidious, violent and largely invisible criminal world where individuals, including children, are sold for sex or pushed into forced labor.
Many people think that these unthinkable crimes don’t happen in North Dakota. Recent events tell us otherwise. Last year, North Dakota authorities arrested several men in connection to human trafficking. A particularly disturbing case occurred in November when an online sex trafficking sting nabbed 11 men in Dickinson. Data show that the incidence of human trafficking is not limited to the areas impacted by the energy boom. This is a statewide problem that deserves attention from east to west.
Unfortunately, current North Dakota laws fall short of meeting the changing realities of human trafficking. North Dakota has not passed a law relating to human trafficking since 2009. In fact, one of the major problems with current state law is that it treats both the trafficker and the victim as criminals. Which, when you think of it, is similar to incarcerating a battered spouse. Treating victims as criminals is always counterproductive. When it comes to human trafficking, it can also be deadly.
Surrounding states and the federal government are making efforts to update laws and policies to provide for better enforcement, greater access to services for survivors and to provide legal consistency and continuity needed to combat trafficking across state lines.
The North Dakota Democratic Women’s Legislative Caucus likewise seeks to develop a comprehensive plan to strengthen current laws and create new laws where needed. In this work, we are building upon the examples of other states that are ahead of North Dakota on this issue.
One of our first priorities in the 2015 legislative session will be to pass safe harbor provisions for minor trafficking victims. Safe harbor laws will allow these victims to come forward to law enforcement free of the fear of arrest. These laws have proved to be an essential tool in the battle against human trafficking.
Human trafficking advocates, survivors and private organizations from neighboring states are lending us a hand as we develop our comprehensive plan.
Thanks to the dedication of U.S. Sens, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., there is now federal legislation that focuses on protection and support for victim survivors. But North Dakota should not wait for federal action.
It’s time for North Dakota’s leaders to stand up, face the ugly reality of human trafficking in our own backyard, and protect our own. And that is exactly what North Dakota Democratic women legislators intend to do.
Mooney, Cummings, represents District 20 in the North Dakota House.
Also preparing and signing this commentary: Sen. Joan Heckaman, District 23, New Rockford; Sen. Carolyn Nelson, District 21, Fargo; Sen. Connie Triplett, District 18, Grand Forks; Rep. Lois Delmore, District 43, Grand Forks; Rep. Jessica Haak, District 12, Jamestown; Rep. Kathy Hogan, District 21, Fargo; Rep. Naomi Muscha, District 24, Enderlin; Rep. Kylie Oversen, District 42, Grand Forks; Rep. Marie Strinden, District 18, Grand Forks.