AG Knudsen, MTDOJ support stronger penalties and increased prosecutions on Human Trafficking Awareness Day

AG Knudsen, MTDOJ support stronger penalties and increased prosecutions on Human Trafficking Awareness Day

HELENA – Today, on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Attorney General Austin Knudsen, Attorney General’s Office prosecutors, Department of Justice human trafficking agents, and other advocates testified in House Judiciary Committee in support of House Bill 112. Sponsored by Rep. Jodee Etchert the legislation will strengthen Montana’s human trafficking laws by increasing penalties for people who participate in human trafficking and providing more tools for prosecutors to hold these criminals accountable.

House Bill 112 will strengthen the human trafficking statute by:

  • Clarifying the crime and making the language easier to understand for prosecutors, law enforcement, victims, and potential jurors;
  • Increasing punishments for offenders who encourage or compel a victim to engage in commercial sexual activity and those who patronize the system and providing for mandatory minimums for the worst offenders;
  • And making it clear that anyone who patronizes or encourages sex trafficking of a minor will be strictly liable for their conduct.

“If we’re going to eliminate human trafficking in Montana, we must tell offenders it will not be tolerated. Our current human trafficking laws do not do enough to punish offenders and protect their victims,” Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. “It’s one of my top priorities this legislative session to get House Bill 112 passed and make it easier for prosecutors to put perpetrators behind bars.”

“The Legislature passed human trafficking laws in both 2015 and 2019 and they were a good start, but we need to strengthen the laws to make them easier for prosecutors to use and hold offenders accountable and House Bill 112 will accomplish that. No one has been convicted under Montana’s existing human trafficking statutes,” Rep. Etchert said. “House Bill 112 tells offenders: not in our state.”

Following the hearing, Attorney General Austin Knudsen hosted an event in the Capitol Rotunda to raise awareness of human trafficking, bringing in community advocate partners who are working with the Montana Department of Justice in the fight against human trafficking. Advocacy groups and community partners are crucial to a comprehensive response to human trafficking in Montana. Those partners included the HER Campaign, Lifeguard Group, the North Central Montana Human Trafficking & MMIP Task Force, and the Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association’s Sentinel Project.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery whereby traffickers, which are often organized criminal enterprises, profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. It is estimated that human trafficking generates $150 billion worldwide per year. Montana Department of Justice human trafficking investigators initiated 64 cases in fiscal year 2022, an increase of 300 percent from 16 in the previous fiscal year.

Attorney General Knudsen has increased human trafficking training for county attorneys, Montana Highway Patrol Troopers, and law enforcement cadets at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. Last year, he helped launch the Sentinel Project, a private-public partnership between the Montana Department of Justice, Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, and the Missoula-based Lifeguard Group to increase human trafficking training and public education in the state.

Know the Signs. Potential indicators of sex trafficking may include:

  • Young person that is very hesitant to engage in conversation. Eyes are always downcast, avoiding eye contact, especially with men. Poor physical state…tired, malnourished, or shows signs of physical abuse or torture.
  • Seems to have trouble responding to what their name is or what location (city or even state) they are in. (Victims’ names are often changed, as are their whereabouts. They typically do not stay in one location for long – at times for 24 hours or less).
  • Wearing clothes that do not fit the climate or the situation such as short shorts or skirts, tank tops, and no jacket in the middle of winter.
  • Lack of control over money, personal possessions like bags, ID’s, or documents. May also be carrying very few possessions in a plastic bag.
  • May be accompanied by a dominating person, or someone they seem fearful of. That controlling person may also be someone who does not seem to “fit,” such as a much older individual, an individual of a different race, or with behavior seemingly inappropriate with the suspected victim.
  • Young girl or boy hanging around outside a convenience store, truck stop, casino, or other location. May be approaching different vehicles or men they do not seem to know.

If you believe you witness human trafficking:

  • If the situation is an emergency, call 911.
  • Do not intervene if you see suspected trafficker(s). Remain at a safe distance or in your vehicle.
  • In non-emergency situations, call or text 1-833-406-STOP (1-833-406-7867) OR reach and advocate via live chat at
  • When possible, take images with your cellular device of the suspected trafficker(s), victim(s), and vehicle license plate(s).
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