Together we can stop human trafficking in Montana
January 11th was Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Recently, we have seen too many missing youths in Montana who may be human trafficking victims. Learning what we can do to stop this crime may help these, and other, victims of human trafficking.
I am a registered nurse, domestic violence advocate, and prosecutor who has dedicated my career working for children and people in need. As a prosecutor, I fought against human trafficking on the front lines: I stood up for children victimized by parents when those parents permitted other adults to engage in sexual acts with their children in exchange for drugs.
As a legislator, I fought to pass legislation to protect citizens’ rights, ensure justice for crime victims, uphold children’s rights, and strengthen Montana’s families. There is still more to do – especially with trafficking.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is criminal behavior where people engage in labor or commercial sexual activity through force, fraud or coercion. A 2014 International Labour Organization report indicated human traffickers worldwide earn profits of approximately $150 billion annually.
Human trafficking is a problem in Montana that is coming to light, with increasing cases. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, since 2007, 125 trafficking cases were reported in Montana with 22 cases in 2018 alone. Even the most aggressive estimates underreport the true numbers because many cases are not reported at all.
Money drives the industry, especially sex trafficking where victims are reusable commodities that generate traffickers large amounts of money. Two types of exploiters exist in sex trafficking – traffickers and buyers. In Montana we not only hold traffickers criminally accountable, we have gone after demand by holding those who patronize sex trafficking victims, providing a market for sex trafficking, accountable. We protect children by providing harsher criminal penalties when the victim is a child.
Human trafficking is based on vulnerability - especially sex trafficking. Vulnerable people are targeted by traffickers and frequently subjected to “grooming.” The trafficker acts initially as a provider and safety net but eventually isolates a victim, physically and psychologically controlling her (importantly, it happens to males and females). Individuals, especially women and girls in our Indigenous communities, may be especially vulnerable. This is thought to be related to Montana’s epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
We are not powerless against this slavery – we can prevent it. Everyone can be part of the solution:
1. Educate yourself about human trafficking signs so you can identify it. A complete list of common signs is available at the National Human Trafficking Hotline website and includes:
— Poor mental health or abnormal behavior, appearing submissive and fearful, answers appear scripted, or lack of knowledge of whereabouts;
— Poor physical health, signs of physical abuse;
— Lack of control, an inability to speak alone;
— Poor work conditions, being unpaid or employers holding identity documents;
— Poor living conditions, living with employer or at worksite; and
— Concerning behaviors, being under 18 and engaging in prostitution.
2. If you are concerned someone is a trafficking victim, contact 911 or call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
3. Become involved with local community organizations, such as Soroptimist and Zonta, which combat trafficking.
4. Learn more from public awareness materials like those from the Department of Homeland Security.
5. Learn more about how modern day slavery exists through documentaries about trafficking in the global food supply chains or in rural areas.
6. Support anti-trafficking efforts in your community.
7. Businesses can offer survivors jobs, training or other opportunities.
8. Healthcare providers can learn signs of trafficking and how to assist survivors.
9. Attorneys can offer trafficking survivors legal services.
10. Students can host events or establish a club at their school or campus to raise awareness.
11. Encourage local schools to include age-appropriate education about trafficking.
12. Host an event to raise awareness.
13. Contact local, state and federal representatives to let them know you are concerned about trafficking and want to know what they are doing to combat it.
As a legislator, I fought for reforms in Montana’s human trafficking laws to better protect our communities and help those who survived this atrocity repair their lives – especially children. As a community, we can educate ourselves and come together to stop this modern day slavery in Montana.