By ZACHARY COE/Montana State News
A bill to prevent sex trafficking in Montana was presented to the state House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 197 is proposed to prevent girls from being abducted from public institutions and sold into sex trafficking. It would require the Office of Public Instruction in collaboration with law enforcement and Montana Department of Health and Human Services, to support schools educating students on the dangers of sex trafficking a district policy.
The bill will be funded through the Department of Justice, as Health Education. Specialists will need to be brought into to educate public schools, and will have a net expenditure of around $90,000 per year with zero net revenue received. The price will fluctuate each year while considering inflation, but should level out around the desired price range for the foreseeable future.
Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, is the primary sponsor of the bill. He opened his argument by sharing some shocking statistics about sex trafficking nationwide, beginning with the fact that this is the second largest illegal operation in the country behind drug manufacturing and distribution.\
There is an estimated return of $9.5 billion from this industry in the United States alone and it is primed to take over as the highest grossing illegal operation in the world as it is seen as more profitable and less risky than drug trafficking, according to Gauthier.
He said the average victim are 12- to 14-year-old girls who are recruited in public spaces such as fast food restaurants or grocery stores. The recruiters, who pose as every day citizens, prey on the weak and insecure to attract them to the industry.
Twenty-five percent of kids who enter the industry were previously assaulted. Pimps are responsible for keeping three to six girls in line and profit an estimated $100,000 a year from each girl, according to Gauthier. The number of children affected by this is estimated in the hundreds of thousands nationwide.
The main purpose of the bill is to allow an “ounce of prevention to outweigh a pound of cure” as Gauthier put it. While the facts of the issue are gruesome, the idea of the bill is to stress the importance of understanding the dangers of sex trafficking and the recruiters that attempt to lure in young children.
The bill was passed on a 50-48 vote in the Senate. Gauthier mentioned briefly at the beginning of his presentation how he, a freshman senator, had never attempted a bill of this magnitude or type but, upon reviewing the information, was excited to see public awareness of this issue and the children it is affecting increasing.