Knudsen Asks To Learn Signs Of Human Trafficking
As Human Trafficking Awareness Month is recognized, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen is asking Montanans to learn the signs of human trafficking and report it if they see it to help the state fight the heinous crime. He also sent a warning to human traffickers and their patrons not to do business in Montana because they will be caught and held accountable for their criminal behavior.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers — often organized criminal enterprises — profit at the expense of adults or children compelled to perform labor or engage in commercial sex.
“I am committed to doing everything I can as attorney general to end human trafficking in Montana. At the Department of Justice, we have strengthened the law and dedicated more resources to finding and holding traffickers and patrons accountable,” Knudsen said. “Law enforcement can’t be everywhere. I encourage every Montanan to learn the signs of human trafficking and if you see something, say something. Together, we will continue to send the message to criminals that Montana is a bad place to do business.”
Since Knudsen began sounding the alarm in 2021, reported human trafficking cases have more than doubled. In 2023, Department of Justice agents tracked 143 human trafficking cases in Montana compared an increase of 26 percent from 106 cases in 2022 and more than double the 68 cases in 2021.
During the 2023 legislative session, Knudsen’s office helped write and pass House Bill 112 which increases the penalties for sex traffickers and patrons of sex trafficking. It also provides prosecutors with more tools to prosecute sex traffickers and expands the definition of human trafficking and has helped intensify the crackdown on the sexual abuse of children and all victims.”
The new statute is already helping law enforcement crack down on sex trafficking. For example, last year, officials in Bozeman conducted a sting operation and arrested 18 individuals who were 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.
Knudsen also successfully advocated for two new human trafficking agents during the last legislative session, increasing the number agents to investigate human trafficking from two to four. He has also increased human trafficking training for county attorneys, Montana Highway Patrol Troopers, and law enforcement cadets at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. He 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.
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, 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.
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).