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Officials hope event raises awareness of human trafficking

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The top federal prosecutors in the Dakotas say too few people are getting the message that human trafficking and related crimes often involve local victims and are happening in the two states.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson from South Dakota and U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon from North Dakota are sponsoring a three-day conference next week with first responders, prosecutors and others in hopes of raising awareness of the issue and helping to identify victims. Among the features speakers in Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour, who was abducted and held for nine months as a child in 2002.

Johnson said many people believe that human trafficking originates overseas, but many cases involve homegrown victims. He noted that 20 people have been indicted by his offi ce on such charges in the last four years, including three who received life sentences. Those included Brandon Thompson, who authorities say lured underage girls into prostitution with promises of money and security, then used threats of violence when they attempted to flee.

“So often people think of it as international human trafficking and people being shipped here from Bangkok,” Johnson said. “The trafficking that we see in the Dakotas works different. ... The victims are our own kids. They come from our communities.”

Purdon noted that 11 men who believed they were going to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex were arrested during a recent sting operation in Dickinson.

“That speaks to a level of demand for the trafficking of underage girls,” Purdon said. “If you see that level of demand and don’t think there’s a supply out there to meet that demand, you’re living in a dream world.”

Also in North Dakota, Dustin Morsette was sentenced to 45 years in prison in a 2012 sex trafficking case. He was accused of recruiting minors and young adults to be part of a gang, and forcing members to engage in sex acts with him and others, and distribute drugs.

The conference will be held in Sioux Falls, starting Tuesday. The opening day will focus on medical professionals talking about how to identify victims and how to talk to them, and working with hospitals, doctors and other medical providers.