In just four years, authorities have put three people convicted of human sex trafficking in South Dakota in federal prison for the rest of their lives. There is still a lot of work to be done.
That is why an upcoming conference in Sioux Falls will address this horrific crime in the state, and focus on ways to help victims and survivors get their lives back.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson has been a very visible soldier in the fight against sex trafficking. Among the cases he has seen, he said he will never forget a 14-year-old girl who lived through the unthinkable.
"Watching her transform over the course of about 12 months from that scared and angry victim, to a proud a strong survivor who came into federal court. Was willing to confront her perpetrator. Her sex trafficker," Johnson said.
Johnson has announced the Violent Crime and Human Trafficking Conference will be held on August 12-14 at the Mary W. Sommervold Hall, located in the Washington Pavilion. The conference is co-sponsored by U.S. Attorney Timothy Q. Purdon, District of North Dakota, as well as the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, and Avera Health.
A big piece of the two-and-a-half day event will focus on training for medical professionals.
"They're on the front lines. The fact of the matter is, often they're going to know about a sex trafficking situation before my office does. Before law enforcement is even aware of it," Johnson said.
"It takes a team," Deb Fischer-Clemens, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for Avera Health, said.
Fischer-Clemens said this conference will help doctors and nurses continue to recognize patients who may be victims of the crime. In some cases, she said the victim's captor may be the person bringing the victim in to see the doctor.
"They've been told, 'Do not speak to the physician.' So, there are cues that we as providers have a unique opportunity to identify and then to make the appropriate interventions," Fischer-Clemens said.
The public also has a chance to be part of the conversation -- and learn more about the history, current status, and future trends of human trafficking and sexual assault in South Dakota.
"It really is shocking," Johnson said.
Speakers at the conference include Elizabeth Smart- Gilmour, a sexual abuse survivor and a victim from the Penn State University sex scandal that involved Jerry Sandusky. We will have much more on this on this week's Inside KELOLAND, following the late local news on Sunday.
The conference is free admission and is open to the public. There is a $10 lunch fee for the August 12 Avera Health sessions.