Human trafficking is a Big Sky country problem

By JORDAN SPARR/Montana State news

Montana has seen 315 phone calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline since 2007 from witnesses reporting alleged cases of the crime. The most prevalent form of trafficking taking place through prostitution. The Human Trafficking Hotline has been taking in phone calls and generating statistics on the subject since its inception on Dec. 7, 2007. In 2016, the hotline received 52 separate calls, 15 of which were reports on human trafficking cases.

Looking through the available hotline statistics from 2012 to the present reveals an interesting trend. In 2012 there were 30 calls, 2013 saw 41 calls, 74 calls in 2014, 66 calls in 2015, and the aforementioned 52 calls in 2016. While a steady rise in calls is obvious through the progression of calls over time, the transition from 2015 to 2016 shows a drop in the amount of calls as well as reported cases of human trafficking.

It is probable that the new vigor in public awareness around the crime has helped law enforcement crack down harder than ever on the criminals behind the acts. While the lull in calls in the first couple of years could be attributed to the young age of the Human Trafficking Hotline, the fact that it rose to 74 calls, and dropped over two years to 52 calls is a reassuring measure of the lowered amount of trafficking cases in Montana.

Organizations have recently been founded in Montana to specifically tackle the human trafficking problem, and the statistics show that they are of benefit toward the fight against the crime. Organizations such as the Human Trafficking Hotline, the Montana Anti-Trafficking Project, and the national Blue Campaign have all given a heightened awareness of the issue to the general populace. Putting systems in place for normal, everyday citizens to be active in the fight against this organized crime has pushed back against the steady creep of increased human trafficking across the country, including Montana.

Attorney General Tim Fox describes websites such as Craigslist as being a driving force in the increase of trafficking cases in Montana. With a vast majority of cases being sex trafficking cases and prostitution, the websites offer a hub for criminals to conduct business. In 2016, the Human Trafficking Hotline was tipped off to 10 cases of sex trafficking in Montana, while only one reported case of labor trafficking. That same year, every victim from both sex and labor trafficking in Montana were females. Nine of which were adults, and two were minors.

After being designated a failing state in terms of preventing human trafficking, Montana has since introduced and passed bills which allow much more protection than was previously available to victims, creates an increase in the protection of all children, and forces perpetrators to be registered as sexual offenders.

Nationally, 300,000 minors are sexually exploited or prostituted through human trafficking a year. According to the Montana Anti-trafficking Project, the age at which prostitutes are usually placed into the industry averages around 12-14 years old. As the second most profitable criminal enterprise behind drug trafficking, human trafficking remains a huge problem throughout the United States and Montana.

Recognizing human trafficking is the first step for public interference, and the Montana Attorney General’s Office has some input as to how the average person can be aware and help fight the problem in the state. Warning signs to watch out for include victims living with their employer, inability of a person to speak alone without employer interference, withholding of a victim’s identifying documentation, and any case of a minor being involved with prostitution.

Being an agriculturally active state, the Office of the Attorney General also urges Montanans to be on the lookout for men, women, and children working on farms and ranches in certain conditions. Human trafficking occurs in the agricultural sector due to the remote locations of the trade and the irregularity of pay that usually accompanies the workers of the industry.

Crew leaders of farms and ranches employing the use of human trafficking in their business often use violence, debt, and threats of deportation or continued violence to keep people working with little to no pay. If any person suspects that child labor, forced labor, or debt bondage is taking place the Attorney General’s Office urges them to speak up and initiate an investigation into the operation.

— edited by Zachary Coe

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