The Department of Homeland Security, through the unified voice of the Blue Campaign, is committed to fighting the heinous crime of human trafficking. The unfortunate reality is that human trafficking occurs here in the United States and – as our public service announcement depicts – it is hidden in plain sight. After I learned about the growing human trafficking problem in North Dakota, particularly in the oil-rich Bakken region following the oil boom, I traveled to Fargo, Dickinson, New Town, and Bismarck to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground. While there earlier this month, I engaged with federal, state, local, tribal, non-profit, and private sector stakeholders and explored meaningful ways to work together to raise awareness and fight human trafficking in this region. At Blue Campaign we believe that only through the sum of our collective efforts will we succeed in combating this terrible crime.
The Blue Campaign brings together the Department’s diverse resources and capabilities and coordinates closely with the whole community to provide training, promote public awareness, and equip the American public to recognize and report any suspected human trafficking.
Embracing a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking is a key facet of the Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking. On Tuesday, October 6th, I met with local partners providing vital services at the YouthWorks Shelter and the YWCA Cass Clay Shelter in Fargo. From them we learned about the robust local efforts to protect vulnerable youth and support victims of crimes, as well as other at-risk populations.
On October 7th, I visited Dickinson, where I met with local stakeholders for a roundtable discussion that brought together the diverse perspectives of local law enforcement officers, city officials, victim advocates, and even a survivor of human trafficking. I heard first-hand accounts of the challenges the city of Dickinson is facing from human trafficking, and returned with a deeper understanding of the problem and how Blue Campaign can support local efforts through public awareness resources and training.
On October 8th, I met with local advocacy groups and tribal partners from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation to hear their stories and discuss the critical importance of victim-assistance efforts – particularly in tribal communities. Blue Campaign looks forward to a continued engagement with tribal partners to jointly deliver timely and effective public awareness resources to Native American communities.
On Friday, October 9th, I hosted a roundtable discussion in Bismarck. There, I met with educators, city and law enforcement leaders, and local stakeholders to discuss special vulnerabilities of youth in local schools, as well as training resources available to educators, school resource officers, and law enforcement. Later that afternoon, I joined Senator Heidi Heitkamp to visit the YouthWorks shelter in Bismarck, where we learned about local human trafficking victims, the challenges service providers face in serving such a diverse population of victims, and how the Blue Campaign can best support their efforts.
The Blue Campaign is expanding our work in the public health sector through a new partnership with the North Dakota Public Health Association. This partnership will specifically promote the Blue Campaign’s training and awareness materials throughout North Dakota’s healthcare facilities.
North Dakota Public Health Association Executive Director Maylynn Warne spoke of the importance of our new partnership, saying “The goal is to get the materials into local hospitals and work with tribal communities where there’s a disproportionate amount of members who are a part of the human trafficking ring in North Dakota. There’s a large number of American Indian women affected so we want to be able to reach out to those communities and offer resources.”
Working with our range of invaluable partners – like Senator Heitkamp in North Dakota – the Blue Campaign will continue to spread awareness of human trafficking in order to assist victims and bring their traffickers to justice.
There is much more to be done to combat human trafficking, not just in North Dakota, but in cities and communities across the nation. We can’t do this alone. I encourage you to visit www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign to learn more and see how you can get involved.