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Documentary drives issue of sex trafficking home

Posted 3/31/15 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

There was an overwhelming community response and support for the PBS documentary film, A Path Appears, that was shown last Thursday, March 26, at the Watford City High School Media Center. With over 100 attendees and over 30 individuals signing up to get involved, the organization of a local advocacy group in Watford City will start forming over the next several weeks.
Sex trafficking in North Dakota is on the rise, and often victims can’t escape. With western North Dakota communities still catching up to the challenges of rapid growth, a general lack of awareness and strained law enforcement resources, the risk of getting caught is diminished. Another factor complicating the issue: Drug crimes increased 19.5 percent from 2012 to 2013 in North Dakota, and many of the same people trafficking drugs are involved in sex trafficking.
North Dakota service providers, including staff at domestic violence shelters, report seeing a growing number of women and girls they believe to be victims of trafficking. But the state has no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims and the facilities that offer such services are 500 or more miles from the Bakken.
Sex trafficking is believed to be the most common form of modern-day slavery, with the United States as a significant destination, origin, and transit country for victims and perpetrators. Globally, 4.5 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation, according to an estimate by the International Labor Organization.
Backpage.com, which has replaced Craigslist as the primary Internet prostitution marketplace, daily displays staggering numbers and varieties of sex-for-money ads - especially in pages aimed at growing male-heavy populations, including Williston, Watford City, and Minot. Just last Thursday when the PBS documentary was being shown to the Watford City community, there were 58 sex ads on Backpage.com for the Watford City area alone on that one day.
And because sex trafficking has increasingly become more of an epidemic than just a little splinter in someone’s hand, the small three-member committee from Watford City felt it was imperative to bring this documentary to Watford City. Due to the overwhelming response and support, that committee will partner with FUSE-ND, a statewide anti-trafficking coalition in North Dakota, in order to coordinate a local Watford City task force with some 36 individuals that want to be informed in order to educate and inform the community about the true climate of exploitation.
“Those in attendance expressed genuine concern about the issue, and the passion for advocacy for our youth was evident,” said Shaina Winning with Prairie Public TV. “I was impressed to see so many members of law enforcement present, as well as members of the State’s Attorney’s  Office and school administrators.
According to Winning, Watford City was chosen as a location for a community cinema experience because there was already a group of folks interested in bringing awareness to the community regarding sex trafficking. Prairie Public Education Services is interested in engaging with other communities as well, if there are individuals or groups who are willing to partner in hosting these types of events.
A Path Appears is a beautifully produced, 83-minute documentary, on the reality of human trafficking that provided the attendees a very honest  and candid view, from multiple perspectives, of the ‘hows’ and ‘whys,’ as well as inspiring solutions.
The first screening was at 1:15 p.m. and was specifically geared toward junior and senior-high students, as well as law enforcement, healthcare professionals, ministry, county staff, social services, ambulance and response team, and fire fighters. Two additional screenings were open to the public - one at 3:30 p.m. and another at 6 p.m. Admission was free and a special panel discussion took place after the second and third screenings.
Panel members included Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren, sex trafficking committee members Amy Robinson and Kate Ruggles, Dickinson Press reporter Amy Dalrymple, and Shaina Winning with Prairie Public TV.
“It was a great honor to serve on the panel and take part in the discussion,” said Walgren. “This was a very moving video that looked into a very ugly part of prostitution. I hope that this event brought new knowledge and insight to those who participated and will help to make our community stronger in combating the hidden issue of human trafficking.”
“I’m so appreciative of the panel members who joined us for the two later screenings,” said Winning. “I hope the audience learned as much as I did from these local experts about how sex trafficking and prostitution are impacting your region of North Dakota and our youth. I was surprised to discover from conversation with audience members that many were unaware of the sex trade’s strong presence in the area.”
According to Winning, awareness is the goal for the viewing events, and she feels that goal was met with Watford City’s screenings.
“My personal hope was for those who viewed the film to leave with an altered perception of the individuals who end up in this ‘lifestyle,’ who many times have suffered a lifetime of abuse, and to commit less judging and to take on more of an empathetic perspective of these suffering members of our society,” said Winning. “I would have been pleased to just see that as an outcome, but am ever more encouraged by the action that has been taken to start a local coalition for education and advocacy. Watford City is fortunate to have so many citizens concerned about the welfare of others.”
The local committee would like to thank Prairie Public TV, the Watford City High School administration, local law enforcement, panel members, Siggy’s Sandwich, and the community for helping to make this event successful in bringing awareness and education to western North Dakota.