Cat McClintock
Christina Sambor (Cat McClintock)

These sling-back high heels were left by a male prostitute after an arrest in March 2012. (Tribune file photo)

If you pay attention to the news, you've likely noticed more and more stories about human trafficking in North Dakota. FBI stings flush out dozens of area men who would coerce minors into sex. A man from Missouri prostitutes a Chinese national from a hotel room in Bismarck. And new conferences and task forces arise seemingly every month to discuss solutions.

What we don't really know, however, is the scope of the problem.

"There are all these agencies that interact with victims--law enforcement, abused women services, etc. They're all so busy doing what they do, that nobody has time to research what's going on at a higher level," says Christina Sambor, a Bismarck attorney.

So, Sambor applied for, and received, a 2014 Bush Fellowship to more closely study human trafficking in North Dakota.

The fellowship provides support for individuals "who are committed to make the region a better place." As a Bush Fellow, Sambor will scale back her legal work for the next two years and work closely with groups throughout the state that fight human trafficking.

"I want to meet with those people," says Sambor. "I want to ask 'How can I assist in terms of pulling their expertise together?'"

The Bush Foundation was established in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife Edyth to provide support to individuals and organizations who are working to improve communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Native American nations in the region.

The prestige of the Bush Fellowship not only provides resources so that Sambor can focus on the problem, it also provides credibility so that various agencies more readily share their knowledge with her, she says.

Sambor, a graduate of Bismarck High School, studied political science at University of North Dakota and received her Juris Doctor from Pepperdine University. Her interest in the issue blossomed while she worked in Washington DC helping draft anti-human trafficking legislation while with the Polaris Project.

"When I returned home, I specifically wanted to know what human trafficking looks like in North Dakota," she says. "To make an effective response, you have to understand what's going on first."

The Bush Foundation agreed, identifying Sambor as "part of a burgeoning grassroots movement of legislators, survivors, service providers, and others who are working to better understand and address what amounts to modern-day slavery."

Human trafficking is a complicated problem that calls for multifaceted solutions.

Sambor says law enforcement needs education to understand how best to recognize, draw out, and respond to victims appropriately. But hospitality workers, flight attendants and ER nurses can benefit too from knowing how to identify and report suspected trafficking situations.

Once victims come forward, they need direct services. "They need safe emergency housing, often with different services than offered by what's currently in place," she says. "And what about minors who want to go back to school? It's challenging to integrate them directly into a typical high school environment after what they've been through."

She points out that policies need work too. For example, at present, a minor picked up for prostitution in North Dakota is typically charged as a juvenile delinquent. Laws in other states (and currently being introduced in Washington, D.C.) require all minors in sex-for-sale situations to be treated as trafficking victims.

While many agencies in the state are working to address these and other problems, they are only just recently beginning to coordinate their efforts. That's where Sambor hopes to help.

"There's a big need for collaboration. I want to join that effort, walk along with all those experts and help with bringing all this knowledge together."

Ultimately, Sambor says she the fellowship as a step in her life's work.

"I'd like to see North Dakota continue to develop organizations that raise money and awareness for all the issues that intersect at human trafficking."

She envisions coalitions building that address not just trafficking but also associated economic issues, domestic violence and children in crisis situations. "We need to build an infrastructure to respond to these issues."

So does Sambor think she can wipe out human trafficking in North Dakota over time?

"This is a big, complicated issue," she says. "If I'm basing my success on eradicating it ... I'd have to have a God complex to think I could do that.

"But I look at myself as one person. Anyone being trafficked is one person. If I can assist that one person, I'm a success."

Cat McClintock is Bismarck-based freelance writer specializing in technology and product development.