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Local organizations sponsor training against sex trafficking

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PABLO – Local law enforcement professionals and members of the public learned how to prevent and investigate instances of sex trafficking at a training sponsored by Salish Kootenai College and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

The Feb. 11 event featured five hours of training exclusively for law enforcement and members of the justice system. The second part of the session was opened up to the public. According to SKC’s description, the event was intended to “provide the attendee with a better understanding and awareness regarding sex trafficking, learn indicators to identify victims and discuss investigative strategies.”

Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force chair and social worker Kat Werner and Missoula city detective Guy Baker,  who facilitated the training, have been presenting throughout the region. 

In her presentation, Werner defined sex and labor trafficking as the use of “force, fraud or coercion” to force someone into an involuntary role of servitude. 

The training highlighted the fact that victims of sex trafficking usually belong to vulnerable populations. These include members of the LGBTQ community, the homeless, victims of previous sexual abuse and people experiencing poverty. The presentation added that Native women are trafficked at “disproportionately” higher rates than other demographics. This can be attributed to vulnerabilities that include poverty, cultural disassociation and lack of opportunity. In addition, jurisdiction rules on reservations can create opportunities for trafficking.  

Werner provided a quick assessment for indicators of sex trafficking. She pointed out that it doesn’t always mean that someone is kidnapped and moved to another location. Indicators of sex trafficking include a person controlling another’s movement, speech and contact with their family. Evidence of physical and sexual assault can also indicate that someone is a victim of sex trafficking. Victims are often asked to trade sex for money or other necessities like rent or food. Sometimes victims are unwilling to admit that they are being exploited. The training also covered the ways that sex traffickers use websites to sell services. 

Werner advised attendees to educate themselves and others on the issue. Those who see indicators of sex trafficking should call local law enforcement, according to Werner’s presentation. She also told attendees to speak out against blaming victims of sex trafficking or objectifying women or victims. Workplace and legislative policies to prevent sex trafficking and support victims are another way to prevent the crime, Werner said.

Terri Cordier, continuing education coordinator at SKC, came up with the idea for the training. Her colleague Drew Hanson, director of academic success at SKC said others in the department agreed that the training would be valuable for local communities.

“We live in a strange corridor where we don’t know a lot about what’s going to and from highways,” Hanson said. “This was an opportunity for us to get more information.” 

SKC reached out to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to see if officers would be interested in attending the training. The office offered to co-sponsor the event. Fernando Venegas, patrol lieutenant for Lake County Sheriff’s Office, coordinates the office’s training. 

“This is important because it’s happening here in Lake County,” Venegas said. “When you think of sex trafficking you think it’s a big city crime but it’s not. It’s everywhere.” Venegas said he has worked on a sex trafficking case in the area, and wanted other justice system officials in the area to be aware of the issue. 

The CSKT Tribal Health Department provided refreshments at the event. Hanson said the 43 attendees at the training ranged from law enforcement officials to attorneys to social workers. About 50 community members attended the public training.  

“It’s very evident: the importance to the community just by sheer numbers of people who were there,” Hanson said.

Venegas said the law enforcement portion of the training highlighted methods for identifying individuals who might be vulnerable to sex trafficking, particularly on the Internet. In addition, Venegas said the training provided tips on building a solid case against sex traffickers. He said he appreciated the diversity of justice system representatives that attended the training.

“Ultimately it’s all the agencies and entities across the county who fight these crimes,” Venegas said. According to Venegas, the partnership between the sheriff’s office and SKC helped the event reach a wide audience.

Venegas and Hanson said SKC and the sheriff’s office would likely partner on further training on sex trafficking and other law enforcement issues. “Education is important for keeping this community safe,” Venegas said. 


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