Officials who work each day with victims of human trafficking told lawmakers on Monday that continued funding is needed to maintain critical assistance programs, despite budget constraints.
Senate Appropriations Committee members heard from several program leaders in favor of Senate Bill 2203, which would provide $1 million to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office for grants to organizations dedicated to dealing with human trafficking victims.
One-time legislation passed in 2015 for $1.25 million for programs related to human trafficking victims programs, training and services.
The Duluth, Minn., native met her trafficker at age 18 and was quickly wrapped up in the world of trafficking, eventually having multiple arrests for prostitution. She said she eventually separated herself from her trafficker in early 2010 and began her recovery in summer 2013.
“I don’t say all of this for people to have pity on me,” John said. “I openly share this with you because I want people to understand the reality of trafficking and the barriers survivors of trafficking face.”
John said there was a lack of programs and options as she searched for housing and support groups. She said her criminal record also made finding housing and a job extremely difficult.
She said progress has been made since last session and urged lawmakers to continue funding so important programs don’t go away.
“Like our state efforts, I am also a work in progress,” John said. “Our services are vital for any victim at any time in their journey.”
Youthworks director Melanie Heitkamp said accomplishments have been plentiful in the past year in working to improve human trafficking programs and services. These include providing host homes for sheltering victims, creation of an after-hours crisis hotline and training more than 2,500 professionals across the state.
Christina Sambor, director of the state’s human trafficking coalition, FUSE, provided statistics on trafficking to the committee.
“I think they will continue to go up,” she said of the number of victims over time. “This isn’t something we’re going to solve in the next two years.”
Sambor said a large majority of human trafficking cases go unreported.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said a number of budget items passed in 2015, such as the human trafficking funding, were passed as one-time funding items. He said despite this, there was recognition that some of the items would need to continue.
“It’s something we should face the reality of that it’s not going away,” Holmberg said.
Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, called the testimony eye-opening.
“We’ve got to get a handle on this. The sooner the better,” he said.