SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A woman who was held captive for nine months has underscored the importance of work performed by health care professionals, law enforcement and social workers to rescue and support kidnap victims.
Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour told a South Dakota forum on Wednesday that such work "makes a difference" in the fight against human trafficking and sexual abuse. The conference that ends Thursday aims to raise awareness about human trafficking in the Dakotas, which in North Dakota has been partly fueled by the recent massive influx of workers to the Bakken oil fields.
"People like you brought me back," Smart-Gilmour told the audience.
Smart-Gilmour was taken from her Salt Lake City bedroom in June 2002 at age 14 and held for nine months. Now 26, she described her capture and the repeated sexual assaults she endured. She told how she was moved from Utah to California and constantly threatened with death if she tried to escape.
She stressed that authorities must have protocols in place to deal with rescued victims. Smart-Gilmour recalled how she was handcuffed, taken to the police station and left in a "little room with no windows" right after police officers found her. The situation, she said, did not make her feel comfortable.
Since her rescue, she has started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to protect children and educate them about violent and sexual crimes.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson from South Dakota and U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon from North Dakota are sponsoring the three-day conference. They said human trafficking in the Dakotas involves local victims, not people brought from abroad.
While the Bakken's oil boom has gifted North Dakota with prosperity and population growth in recent years, it has also led to prostitution and human trafficking.
"There's no question that more people equals more crime," Purdon said Wednesday.
Victim advocates in North Dakota have called for the establishment of a shelter for victims of human trafficking in Williston, in the heart of oil country. Victims nowadays can be housed in domestic violence shelters, but these facilities are already strained by an increase in domestic violence also attributed to the population boom.