Human Trafficking Series: The Fight on the Streets

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MINOT, N.D. - The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-years-old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.

"That right there is what I'm looking for. Why is that door propped open? It's a key lock. I mean, it could be construction. But this door is famously known for - door C, hall C - there's history there. That's the brothel hall, and I'm actually going to get out and go check," says Windie Lazenko, 4her Founder.

Most of Lazenko's days and nights are spent searching for victims of human trafficking. A life she is more than familiar with.

"I was sold into sex trafficking at a party at 13 after being a runaway for a couple of years, recruited by another teen, and then that's what thrust me into the life of sexual exploitation through trafficking," says Lazenko.

Lazenko's life didn't change until she was 32. After years of working in Miami on human trafficking, she came to North Dakota.

"I started to hear reports from local community members about working over in the Bakken and man camps and the oil fields, and one of the guys that I attended church with has shared with me how he had overheard some men ordering some girls and that one of the guys had asked to see if they had any 11-year-olds, and that, for me, being in the work, it was shocking. So all of sudden it was like 'where's North Dakota and how do I get there,'" says Lazenko.

Over the past three years, Lazenko has worked with more than 50 girls and housed 15. She says the demand is here and race is a prevalent issue in human trafficking.

"A lot of the things that are going on in developing oil country is affecting the reservations. We have a high population of Native Americans; they are a people at great risk," says Lazenko.

The five reservations in the state are policed by three different jurisdictions, which has led to some loopholes.

"There was never a need to address human trafficking, or prostitution for that matter, but, ya know, these last five years, six, seven years, obviously it's alive in our community," says Scott J. Davis Commissioner North Dakota Indian Affairs.

Like many agencies in the state, he says it's difficult to say how many people have been victimized on the reservations, but he says they are working with state, local and federal agencies to close the loopholes.

One of those is the State Human Trafficking Task Force directed by Christina Sambor, who says the problem isn't just affecting oil country.

"There can be a perception that the trafficking in North Dakota was tied exclusively to the Bakken. What we've seen consistently, since we've started to formalize data collection, is that there's as much, if not more, activity going on in Fargo-Moorhead than there is in Minot, Williston and Watford City. And so what our work has really showed us is that this is a statewide problem, and there are different markets in different places," says Sambor.

Just this past June, law enforcement arrested 18 people in an undercover sting operation in Fargo-Moorhead after police posted an online ad soliciting sex with teenage girls.

The sting was a wake up call for many about the demand that exists for human trafficking.

The FBI and Homeland Security have been called in to work with local law enforcement agencies on the issue, but is it enough? Friday we'll tell you how law enforcement and prosecutors are working to fight human trafficking.