Filling in the Cracks of Modern Day Slavery: A Survivor’s Story and the Red Sand Project’s Solution
About 40.3 million people are human trafficking victims globally
FARGO, N.D. –It’s a silent industry in more than 100 countries and in all 50 states, ruining lives and shattering families.
In our lead story, KVRR’s Danielle Church tells us how a small group is fighting this industry, and in the process, taking on a task as big as the world itself.
Trauma blocks some of the details but the first 24 hours can’t be erased.
“I drove to this house in West Fargo, walked in the door,” said Anna, a human trafficking survivor. “This guy, he looked like Santa Claus to me. What I remember most about it is pictures of his family on the wall and I’m just in his home to provide a service because he doesn’t feel like I’m as valuable, or whatever the case may be.”
Anna, who’s name is changed and face is hidden to protect her privacy, spent a little over a year as a human trafficking slave.
Her life of freedom turning into a revolving door of clients from whom she couldn’t escape.
“Each day the number of dates increased and the quotas and the money increased and the girls kind of revolved in and out depending on where we were going that time,” she said.
As a teenager, Anna was sexually abused and later became addicted to drugs, leaving her homeless. She entrusted her drug supplier to be her savior.
“He took that and exploited that part of me to ‘I’m keeping you well. You’re not sick and so now you have to do this for me or else it’s done and it’s cut off,” Anna said. “Then it becomes a cycle of you need the drugs to not be sick and to cope with what you just did.”
“Most of the time, that’s the case when we sit down and talk to somebody,” said Melissa Williams, a Youth Works human trafficking navigator. “They’re not choosing to be a prostitute, they have grown up in an environment that has taught them that or they don’t feel like they have other options or they’re so scared of what’s going to happen to them if they don’t continue to engage in that lifestyle because of the fear that the trafficker has instilled in them.”
It’s a manipulative tactic helping traffickers stay in control and sell their victims to customers, who typically find what they’re looking for on the internet.
Williams says police frequently set up stings to catch these buyers.
“The one we did in 2016, which was very astonishing to me is 159 in our community responded to one ad that law enforcement posted,” she said.
About 40.3 million people are human trafficking victims globally.
Since 2007, 232 people in North Dakota have been identified as victims compared to 930 in Minnesota.
But Williams says people still don’t want to believe the facts.
“It’s not even the word ‘still’ in this state. People feel like it never has happened, never will because it’s ‘North Dakota nice. That stuff doesn’t happen here. My neighbor or that farmer or that doctor or that judge or whoever would never do that,'” Williams said.
Part of what allows the city to remain a human trafficking hub is I–94 and I–29, two major roads helping traffickers transport people to surrounding states and Canada. But it’s a group of students at NDSU who say they have the solution Fargo–Moorhead needs.
With a little help from red sand, they’re trying to ensure no one else slips through the cracks by creating a local chapter of the Red Sand Project, an organization which fights human trafficking worldwide.
“Their goal is really just to bring awareness to others, that it happens and it’s out there and we can do something about it,” said Kayla Herkenhoff, co-founder of NDSU’s Red Sand Project.
Creating a difference that sticks is why NDSU’s Red Sand Project is doing more than just fulfilling a Women and Gender Studies class assignment.
“My students give me hope. More hope than probably anybody else. If that’s something that somebody can do in a semester, what can they do in a lifetime,” said Erienne Fawcett, NDSU Asst. Director of Women and Gender Studies.
“I mean I think that’s why we’re all here,” Herkenhoff said. “That’s something I love doing and so to make a difference in a woman or a man’s life that was affected by human trafficking or can be, I think that makes the world of difference.”
Such a small act with the potential to create an even bigger change.
“Even if it just affects one victim and they hear about it and they see what people are doing, and that they support them, and there’s help lines and there’s people in the community they can go to,” said Allison Bertsch, co-founder of NDSU’s Red Sand Project.
It’s the kind of community Anna needed after watching her best friend overdose, and running away from her dealer–pimp.
Anna says if groups like NDSU’s Red Sand Project don’t continue raising awareness and shedding light on the sex trafficking industry, things will never change.
“It’s going to keep happening tomorrow. I guess that’s the simplest way for me to put it. It’s not going to stop until we address it,” Anna said. “How many kids, when you ask them what they want to be when I grow up, say they want to be a prostitute? Nobody wants that for themselves. A day is too much.”
Making sure someone else’s first 24 hours – like Anna’s – ever cease to exist.
Anna’s trafficker is serving a life sentence in prison for drug trafficking.
The Red Sand Project was created in 2014 by artist and activist Molly Gochman, who’s based in New York City.
Chapters have popped up in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries across the world.