Posted on

Legislators Discuss Human Trafficking Proposal


Sen. Jodee Etchart, R-Billings, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 11, that according to stats from the Department of Justice, human trafficking in Montana has risen roughly 300 percent from 2021 to 2022. Etchart said that is why she is sponsoring House Bill 112, which supporters say would address the issue and strengthen the state’s ability to prosecute those found guilty of human trafficking.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery where 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. Cases in Montana are on the rise,” Etchart said.

State Attorney General Austin Knudsen told lawmakers that the proposal is one of, if not the, most important prosecutorial bill in front of them this session.

Etchart said no one has been arrested under Montana’s current human trafficking law because it’s too hard to prove the defendant’s guilt in court. HB 112 would make “promotion of prostitution” a human trafficking charge and divide the law into four categories that would be easier for prosecutors to prove — sex trafficking, aggravated sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, and labor trafficking. The bill would also raise the penalties for such crimes and remove loopholes for charges related to sex crimes against children. The solicitation of sex from a human trafficking victim is currently classified as prostitution in Montana that means it’s a misdemeanor.

The bill drew nine proponents including law enforcement officers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and Montana citizens like Donna Elford.

“Until we stop the Johns… Until we make it so painful for them as they have for their victims this is going to continue and I really urge you to put some teeth into our laws,” Elford said.

According to data compiled by the Montana Department of Justice, the number of human trafficking cases in Montana has risen 871% from seven reported cases in 2017 to 68 in 2021.

Knudsen spoke as a proponent of the bill and says it’s one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities this session. During the hearing he also said that human trafficking can be a taboo subject, and as a result doesn’t get the attention from lawmakers that it needs. He says Montana hasn’t done enough to protect those vulnerable to trafficking.

“These traffickers would not be in Montana trying to do business if there were not a demand for human trafficking victims. I’m going to tell you something that I’ve found rather staggering. There are certain events that happen throughout Montana that our human trafficking agents can track when the demand for human trafficking goes up,” Knudsen said.

According to Knudsen, the demand for human trafficking victims rises in conjunction with popular events like concerts or sporting events.

“We have got to let the message be known to those in Montana who would prey on these innocent victims that, if you do this and we catch you, you are not going to get a slap on the wrist. You’re not going to get a fine and a couple days in jail, you’re going to do some hard time and this is going to be a felony,” Knudsen said.

No one testified against the bill Wednesday and the committee did not take immediate action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *