Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) joined a panel at the University of North Dakota Law School Friday to discuss potential policy changes to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The panel sought to give insight into the scope of child trafficking and possible solutions to the problem affecting the nation and the state. Former president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) John Clark moderated the panel. Law students at UND and members of the public attended the event.
“I think it is critically important that this not just be a social worker’s problem, a cop’s problem, a legislator’s problem, that this be all of our problem because these are all of our kids,” Heitkamp said.
“Child sex trafficking is a missing child issue,” Staca Shehan, executive director of the NCMEC case analysis division, said.
The most likely victims to be trafficked are runaways, homeless youth and LGBTQ children, according to Shehan. There have been about 113 children from North Dakota reported to the NCMEC in the last three years, and more than 100 of whom were runaways, Shehan said.
According to Shehan, the average age of a trafficking victim is 15, and although females make up the majority of victims, there have been more males coming forward. The change in the number of reported male victims has increased from 1 percent six years ago to approximately 5 percent today.
Tom Brusegaard, a staff member from Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-ND) Grand Forks office and member of the panel, said Sen. Hoeven is working on legislation to address bringing more victim’s resources in tribal communities, with Heitkamp signing on to the bill.
Sen. Heitkamp, along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), co-sponsored legislation to expand Amber Alert services to Native American reservations.
“The opioid crisis has an unseen and unheard from victim, and it’s called the foster child,” Sen. Heitkamp said. “A child who has gone through this kind of trauma will require years of therapy and will probably never emotionally recover, so prevention has to be at the forefront.”
Heitkamp said resources need to be further directed to be spent on training to recognize trauma in children. The scope of this training would apply to teachers, health care professionals and members of the community.