An anti-human trafficking initiative that originated with United Presbyterian Church has grown to a coalition of 40 people representing agencies, nonprofits and churches in Jamestown.
The Rev. Bob Boyar, pastor of United Presbyterian Church, said a grant from the Presbyterian Mission Agency made it possible to start the initiative in 2016. Members of the Presbyterian Women’s group attended a human trafficking summit and wanted to have a local effort, he said.
“Our goal was and still is to continue to connect the agencies and people in the community that have a heart for this ministry and the issues surrounding human trafficking,” Boyar said.
The goal is to be a positive influence and make the community aware that people continue to be victimized with both labor and sex trafficking, he said. During the past year the initiative worked with the Jamestown Area Chamber of Commerce to bring trafficking information and resources to hotel managers and businesses, he said.
“It’s been a real education,” Boyar said. “They have a heart for this and I am glad it continues.”
Jackie Tarpinian, one of five members of the anti-human trafficking committee at United Presbyterian Church, said the work is consistent with the church mission of “sharing Christ’s Love through service.” The initiative connects the people who can make a difference on the issue, she said.
“It just occurred to us that we should get all of them together,” Tarpinian said. “We had 38 people come to our first meeting including FBI, police, ministers, school officials and others.”
The trafficking threat might not be as paramount in Jamestown as elsewhere but it does exist and is a complicated problem, she said. A trafficked worker might be a laborer or hotel worker who is trapped in bad situation.
Women are sometimes coerced into sex for favor situations and then are too ashamed to return home, she said. They wind up out of state and dependent on the trafficker, she said.
“There are a lot of scary situations,” Tarpinian said.
The initiative works with Melissa Williams of Youthworks in Fargo, who is the anti-human trafficking network coordinator the Eastern North Dakota region. Williams brings training and resources to the group and help to develop a human trafficking protocol for medical, social services, law enforcement, safe shelters, prosecutors and other core people.
“The goal is to get agencies together to work in a unified way,” Williams said. “The community is doing fantastic work with the people who need to be more involved.”
Trafficking can involve everything from domestic servitude to parents pimping out their kids to feed a drug habit or pay the rent, Williams said. The trafficker often brainwashes the victims and uses threats against them or their family if they run, she said.
“It is terrifying to come forward and that makes it difficult for these cases to come to light,” Williams said.
Safe Shelter in Jamestown has not had a lot of experience with victims of human sex trafficking but there have been cases, said Mary Thysell, sexual assault services coordinator.
“Victims are not going to present themselves as victims of trafficking,” Thysell said. “I think that is one of the reasons it is so important that we have this collaborative endeavor.”
A sex trafficking network is a kind of distorted family, she said. The victims are vulnerable and often coerced through a relationship, drugs or just food and shelter, she said.
The victim starts to normalize the situation and is sometimes used to help exploit other victims into trafficking, she said.
Detective Dale Ackland of the Jamestown Police Department said the initiative is helping open a line of communication to deliver the public safety message on reporting suspicious activity including human trafficking.
For more information, contact United Presbyterian Church at 252-1748, or Youthworks at 232-8558 and youthworksnd.org. The human trafficking crisis line is (701) 526-4863.