Human trafficking is not just a big city problem – it’s happening right here in Montana.
Which is why, during National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, I’m encouraging Montanans to learn the signs of human trafficking and report it if they see it.
If folks don’t know what it is and how to report it, they can’t help us stop it.
Let’s call human trafficking what it is: modern-day slavery. Traffickers—often organized criminal enterprises—are profiting at the expense of adults and children who are forced to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. It’s a heinous crime.
Since my administration began sounding the alarm about this problem in 2021, there has been a major uptick in human trafficking cases in Montana. It makes sense – as more people learn about the problem the more cases will be reported.
Last year, Department of Justice investigators tracked 147 cases. That’s an increase of 38 percent from the 106 tracked in 2022 and more than double the 68 cases that were tracked in 2021. And in 2015, there were just seven total cases reported statewide.
During last year’s legislative session, we made great strides in stopping sex trafficking.
Legislators gave me the funding for two new human trafficking agents, increasing the number agents to investigate human trafficking from two to four. That means we have more boots on the ground to find perpetrators and make sure they can be held accountable. In fact, our two agents sent 35 cases for prosecution last year and make 30 human trafficking related arrests. I look forward to what they can do with more investigators this upcoming year.
If we can cut off demand by holding patrons of sex trafficking accountable, we can stop the heinous crime.
Governor Greg Gianforte also signed House Bill 112, a bill championed by my office, into law. The new law increases the penalties for sex traffickers and patrons of commercial sex from a misdemeanor to a felony. It also gives prosecutors the tools they need to hold traffickers and patrons of sex trafficking accountable.
This new law has already been instrumental in helping law enforcement find and charge criminals. In July of last year, officials in Bozeman conducted a sting operation and arrested 18 individuals charged with 18 counts of patronizing a prostitute, five counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of patronizing a victim of sex trafficking for a child victim.
Over the last three years, my office also helped launch the Sentinel Project, a private-public partnership between the Montana Department of Justice and non-governmental organizations to increase human trafficking training and public education in the state.
We also increased training for county attorneys, Montana Highway Patrol troopers, and created anti-trafficking curriculum for cadets at the Law Enforcement Academy so that in the field they can identify and respond to cases of human trafficking.
While I’m proud of how far we’ve come and I promise to continue to do everything I can as attorney general to stop human trafficking, we need your help. Law enforcement can’t be everywhere. Please visit dojmt.gov/humantrafficking to learn the signs and how to report human trafficking.
Austin Knudsen is the Republican Attorney General of Montana.
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