(SFGate) When she first arrived in town, Windie Lazenko headed to the neon-lit strip clubs and bars catering to lonely oil field workers with extra cash and time on their hands. She knew these were likely gathering spots for the sex trade — the life she'd given up long ago.
For nearly two decades, Lazenko was part of that illicit world, starting as a 13-year-old runaway when, she says, she was bought and sold for sex. Prostitution, pornography and strip clubs followed. Then she walked away from it all. She eventually moved to Montana and a few years ago, while counseling at-risk girls, she began hearing about young women being recruited for prostitution in the Bakken oilfields. She wanted to help.
Lazenko is now one of the most prominent activists in the fight against sex trafficking in the oil patch. She's worked with federal prosecutors, the FBI and police, testified before state lawmakers and addressed church and school groups. She also has formed an advocacy-resource group, 4her North Dakota, reaching out to victimized women.
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"I speak their language from the get-go," she says. "I'm not law enforcement. I'm not out there to bust them. They don't have to play the game with me. They're going to respect me and I'm going to respect them. We're going to have a conversation. I know what it is to be out there."