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Other views: ND fighting back against human trafficking

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This dedicated timeframe has been established as a means to raise awareness of the realities of this insidious, violent and largely invisible world.

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In North Dakota, we’d like to think this reprehensible and utterly unthinkable crime isn’t happening here — and yet, the facts would say otherwise. Increased traffic and population to the western side of the state would lead one to conclude these instances only occur there — but as arrests and data demonstrate, the extortion of people for sex, labor and drugs is real and alive all across the state.

The North Dakota Democratic Women’s Caucus stands strong in the call to action to shed light and provide safe harbor sanctions for victims and survivors in North Dakota.

In a collaborative and statewide approach, work began in 2013 to insure that legislative efforts from 2009 continue forward in the 2015 session. As surrounding states have begun to systematically embrace enhanced laws for enforcement, consistency and continuity in these laws become increasingly important to our law enforcement and judicial systems across state lines.

The need to recognize these crimes as not consensual is critical. Just as you wouldn’t incarcerate a battered spouse, so too, treating victims as criminals is counter-productive. The ability to treat survivors with decency and respect becomes paramount for their safety and rehabilitation.

Looking forward into 2014, we see great things falling in to place for North Dakota.

Law enforcement, legal professionals and social services working in the frontlines are eager to engage in the process of sharing out valuable data and information.

A growing number of private organizations are taking up the cause to enlighten and educate. The Uniform Laws Commission is working on language that addresses both enforceability and safe harbor for presentation to the Judiciary Interim Committee. Human Trafficking advocates, survivors and private organizations from neighboring states stand ready to lend a hand as we continue pulling together comprehensive information and resources. And now, thanks to the visionary and collaborative work of Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., we have federal legislation being presented that focuses on both protection and support for victim survivors.

It’s truly an exciting time as we find people and groups of all walks of life coming together in the commonality of concern for the safety of our children and loved ones. The need to protect our vulnerable populations is universal.

The North Dakota Democratic Women’s Caucus formed this opinion.