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Area focus group addresses domestic violence, human trafficking

By Staff | Jun 5, 2020

Representatives from Pierce and four neighboring counties shared their perceptions of domestic violence and human trafficking in focus group studies last week sponsored by the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Minot.

Some of the focus group meetings took place at a large table at Marie’s Restaurant in Bottineau, where attendees sat six feet apart. Other focus group members attended online. Group members included law enforcement officers, social workers, small business owners and others in Pierce, Bottineau, Renville, Rolette and McHenry Counties.

“We are hoping to learn from community representatives about what domestic violence and sexual assault looks like, what services are available for victims, and if these services are accessible,” Community Relations Specialist Marlene Hershberger-Collazo said in a written statement to the Tribune.

Hershberger-Collazo said victims in rural counties such as Pierce may feel isolated from resources that are available in cities like Minot.

“Bringing awareness to the community, cultivating relationships in all disciplinary roles, and promoting services will ultimately have a greater bearing for victims as most will reach out to known and trusted community members vs. reaching out to law enforcement directly.

“Each community and its members can provide perception to what barriers are affecting them the most and how we can overcome these limitations together,” Hershberger-Collazo said.

Hershberger-Collazo said victims in rural communities lack awareness of the services available through the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She added victims sometimes hesitate to reach out in their rural communities due to gossip that can spread in small towns, which can stigmatize victims and families. That hesitation highlights the need for community members and leaders to establish trusting relationships.

“We have learned that some communities do not have an abundance of information on what (Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center and Family Crisis Center) have to offer, what we do, or how to refer victims. It is our mission to ensure that victims have access, promote to the community and hopefully standardize practices and processes for various agencies,” Hershberger-Collazo wrote. “We not only want to ensure victims have those accessible services but that they have the community support to enter the process with confidence in the services and feel safe doing so.”

Hershberger-Collazo said another form of abuse- human trafficking- can exist even in small communities like those in Pierce County.

“We are continuing our efforts to understand what human trafficking looks like in each county and how we can better recognize those signs,” she wrote.

Hershberger-Collazo cited signs of human trafficking community members should look for, taken from ndhttf.org, the website of the North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force:

– “Individuals are advertised for sex online and trafficked out of local and rural hotels and homes.”

– “Adults forced to work long hours on a rural farm. This may include the withholding of personal identification documents if they are from another country. Withholding may also include food, water, money, medical treatment, etc. Labor traffickers may make threats against the workers’ lives or the lives of their loved ones.”

– “Survival sex is the exchange of goods, like food or shelter, in exchange for a labor or a sexual act. Vulnerable populations are particularly at risk for being exploited as they may have limited options to meet basic needs, and traffickers and buyers aim to take advantage of their vulnerabilities.”

– “Parent/Guardian trading their child for sex to obtain drugs and alcohol. This happens behind closed doors and may go on for a long period of time wherein the youth may not identify as a victim because the behavior has been normalized.”

Hershberger wrote, “If there are any suspicions of human trafficking or If you know or are a victim, utilize all resources available: local law enforcement, social/human services or the Domestic Violence Crisis Center at (701) 852-2258.”

Victims or those who want to help may also visit courage4change.org/ or humantraffickinghotline.org, where live chat is available. Help is also available by texting INFO or HELP to 233733, or calling (800) 373-7888.

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