Human Trafficking: In the Hands of the Law

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MINOT, N.D. - Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, forcing Border Patrol, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and local law enforcement to work together. Tonight Candese Charles continues our investigation into human trafficking across the state.

Just last year the FBI reported working on more than a thousand human trafficking cases throughout the nation and helping 435 victims, some of those victims and cases happened right here in our state. But it and others are working with the Attorney General's office and local law enforcement to clean up human trafficking and keep you safe.

Law enforcement throughout the state is working with federal agencies to crack down on traffickers. Unfortunately some cases hit road blocks.

"So we ran a full scale operation, looking for everything we could. Hoping we could uncover people in our community who are victims of human trafficking. On some levels I think that was successful," said Capt. John Klug, Minot Police Department.

Just last year Minot Police made two prostitution arrests, the year before they made six prostitution arrests, 16 solicitation of prostitution arrests, and five trafficking arrests.

The state Attorney General's office created human trafficking Task Force in 2015 to prosecute traffickers.

A number of agencies including the FBI, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, and Homeland Security Investigations are part of the task force along with survivors and advocates.

"We knew that it was big but we didn't know how big," said Attorney General Wayne Stenejhem.

Last year alone the task force served nearly 50 victims across the state, while Youth Works served 56, the domestic violence shelter served 10, and 4her served nearly 15, and these are just the numbers reported.

The number of prosecutions don't reflect the number of victims nor cases throughout the state.

Many people say this is because there is a lack of human trafficking training.

"Specifically in areas where there's not appropriate training, " said Windie Lazenko, 4her Founder.

"They're not trained in how to act," said Georgia Ambrahamson, Bottineau County human trafficking advocate.

"There has been some training for indicators of human trafficking and that kind of stuff that has been initiated for law enforcement over the past few years, but there's a need for more of that," said Michael Mach, HSI.

The North Dakota Law Enforcement Training Academy says each officer receives two hours of human trafficking training. To keep their license, officers must receive 60 hours of training over a three year period, but those hours can be allotted as the station sees fit.

Border Patrol encounters the issue first hand and says that training is extremely important.

"Sometimes the signs aren't that obvious but officers do get some training. Some of the things that we look for are things that are missing like the lack of identification documents or travel documents, they have look of travel or movement," said Chris Misson, Border Patrol Assistant Area Port director.

FBI and HSI has been working with local law enforcement throughout the state. Here in Minot, HSI agents admit that human trafficking cases are challenging.

"The problem is a lot of the victims don't necessary want to cooperate with law enforcement. They have a hard time overcoming the fact that law enforcement isn't there to charge them with prostitution per se, as we're more concerned and more interested in investigating the people that have forced them into that," said Karsten Anderson, HSI Minot Special Agent.

An HSI agent in Fargo says creating awareness has lead to some successful operations.

"We bought an awareness where there wasn't necessarily a lot of looking out for human trafficking violations and that was very successful it generated several cases over the last couple of years starting from a routine traffic stop," said Michael Mach, HSI Fargo special agent.

"One of the things I've been able to do in some past cases is just help hang on to the girls. Where are they, stay in touch with them. But that's a big part of what I do is try to make sure that we know where they are and try to make sure that they are a part of the process " said Paula Bosch, FBI victims specialist.

And victims being a part of the process can put human traffickers behind bars.

Everyone in the community can take part in working on this issue. On Monday, the last installment in our series covers what you can do to help slow down, if not stop, human trafficking.