Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen kicks off Human Trafficking Awareness Month by urging residents to be vigilant and report signs of human trafficking. In a January 2nd press release, Knudsen's office emphasized that the state is cracking down on this heinous crime, warning traffickers and their patrons that doing business in Montana will lead to their capture and accountability.

Credit Canva
Credit Canva

Reported cases of human trafficking in Montana have exploded in recent years.

Highlighting the surge in reported cases since 2021, Attorney General Knudsen underscores the Department of Justice's commitment to combating human trafficking. In 2023 alone, 143 cases were tracked, more than double the 68 cases in 2021. That marks a 26% increase from 106 cases in 2022. In 2015, there were just seven reported cases of human trafficking statewide.

Knudsen's proactive measures include the passage of House Bill 112 during the 2023 legislative session, intensifying penalties for sex traffickers and patrons. This legislation equips prosecutors with additional tools and broadens the definition of human trafficking, contributing to a crackdown on sexual abuse cases. Notably, a sting operation in Bozeman resulted in the arrest of 18 individuals for various charges related to patronizing a prostitute, criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, resisting arrest, and patronizing a victim of sex trafficking.

To bolster law enforcement efforts, Attorney General Knudsen successfully advocated for two new human trafficking agents, doubling the investigative team from two to four. Furthermore, he prioritizes training programs for county attorneys, Montana Highway Patrol Troopers, and law enforcement cadets at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. The Sentinel Project, a collaboration between the Montana Department of Justice and non-governmental organizations, aims to enhance human trafficking training and public education statewide.

If you see something, say something. Credit Canva
If you see something, say something. Credit Canva

The AG's office notes six potential indicators of human trafficking.

  • 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 and personal possessions like bags, IDs, 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.

The AG's office encourages residents to say something if they see something. Remain in your vehicle or maintain a safe distance. Do not attempt to apprehend a suspicious individual. Instead, call 911 or the statewide hotline at 1-833-406-STOP. If possible, discreetly take a photo of the vehicle, license plate, or individual(s). If you encounter a situation that seems "off", trust your intuition and call the authorities.

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