- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Authorities in North Dakota are starting to build a network of resources to make available for victims of human trafficking and sexual assault in the Bakken oil fields.

North Dakota’s U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon on Wednesday explained the situation in his state’s oil country during the second day of a conference in Sioux Falls meant to raise awareness of the incidence and prevention of those crimes in the Dakotas.

While the Bakken’s oil boom has gifted North Dakota with prosperity and population growth in recent years, it has also led to prostitution and human trafficking.

“There’s no question that more people equals more crime,” Purdon said.

Purdon said that although his office is not responsible for providing long-term services to victims of these crimes, it is trying to lead the way in bringing together social services agencies and organizations in hopes of building an infrastructure that can help survivors.

The founder of Survivor Services in Williston, Windie Lazenko, who was part of a panel discussion on Wednesday, has called for the establishment of a shelter for victims of human trafficking. Victims nowadays can be housed in domestic violence shelters, but these facilities are already strained by an increase in domestic violence that has also come with the population growth in North Dakota’s northwest corner.

The increase in crimes is not limited to Williston. Purdon told the audience that 11 men who believed they were going to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex were arrested during a sting operation in Dickinson in November. The operation was meant to last four days but had to be halted two days in because of a lack of space to hold any additional men.

Assistant U.S. Attorney in North Dakota Gary Delorme said those men offered cash and one even a video game console in exchange for having sex with the girl. Delorme, who was present during the sting, said only one man contacted law enforcement to report the trafficker that was being played by an agent.

The audience on Wednesday also heard from Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour, who was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom at 14 and held captive for nine months. Smart, now 26, described how she was captured, repeatedly sexually assaulted, moved from Utah and California and threatened by her captors.

The event is being hosted by Purdon’s office and U.S. Attorney General Brendan Johnson from North Dakota. It’s sponsored by Avera Health and will run through Thursday.

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