Attorney General Knudsen, trucking industry continue efforts to fight human trafficking in Montana
HELENA – More than three dozen leaders from law enforcement, criminal prosecution, advocacy groups, public health, and private industry leaders came together today in Helena to discuss efforts and effective strategies to combat human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Montana. The event was hosted by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, Montana Trucking Association, and Truckers Against Trafficking, a non-profit organization that exists to engage members of the trucking, bus, and energy industries.
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.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to end human trafficking – which truly is modern day slavery – in Montana.” Attorney General Knudsen said. “The trucking industry in our state and across the country has been a leader against this horrible crime. We’ll continue to work together to bring others into the fight.”
“Human trafficking can take many forms and happen anywhere. Truckers are the eyes and ears of the highways, and the Montana trucking industry is committed to working with law enforcement and other partners to put a stop to it in our state,” Montana Trucking Association CEO Duane Williams said. “We’re grateful for Attorney General Knudsen’s leadership and work with us to put a spotlight on this crime and the toll it takes on victims and communities.”
“Truckers Against Trafficking hosts these events to bring together public and private entities and create partnerships to combat human trafficking, particularly at its intersections with the transportation industries in the state,” Louie Greek, coalition build specialist for Truckers Against Trafficking, said. “Our goal is to provide free training and resources to industries and agencies to build up an army of eyes and ears to combat modern day slavery. We’ve seen an increase in Montana of awareness and efforts to come together and address this pressing issue.”
Attendees heard from a human trafficking survivor, who shared her story of being trafficked across multiple states starting at 16 until she escaped six years later. She was tricked into leaving home by a trafficker and abducted, beaten and raped, forced to use drugs, and threatened with murder if she tried to leave. Different traffickers and trafficking organizations use varying tactics, but stories parallel to hers are repeated every day.
Representatives of the Sentinel Project also updated the group on progress since its launch last year. The Sentinel Project is 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. The project also encourages calls to the statewide hotline, 1-833-406-STOP (7867) when Montanans see suspected trafficking. Calls to the hotline this year are already 34 percent higher than last year (79 in 2021 to 106 through July 30, 2022).
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 406stop.com.
- When possible, take images with your cellular device of the suspected trafficker(s), victim(s), and vehicle license plate(s).
Click here to read Attorney General Knudsen’s recent op-ed regarding his continued efforts to fight human trafficking in Montana.