As Human Trafficking Awareness Month begins, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen urges Montanans to familiarize themselves with the indicators of human trafficking and report any instances they observe to aid the state in combating this reprehensible crime. In a stern message, he warns human traffickers and their accomplices against conducting business in Montana, emphasizing that they will be apprehended and held accountable for their criminal actions.
Human trafficking, a contemporary form of slavery, involves traffickers—often part of organized criminal networks—exploiting adults or children for forced labor or commercial sexual activities.
“As attorney general, my dedication to eradicating human trafficking in Montana is unwavering. At the Department of Justice, we have bolstered legislation and allocated more resources to identify and prosecute traffickers and their accomplices,” Attorney General Knudsen affirmed. “Given that law enforcement cannot be omnipresent, I encourage every Montanan to familiarize themselves with the signs of human trafficking and report any suspicions. Together, we will convey the message that Montana is an inhospitable environment for criminals.”
Since Attorney General Knudsen raised awareness in 2021, reported human trafficking cases have more than doubled. In 2023, the Department of Justice documented 143 human trafficking cases in Montana, marking a 26% increase from 106 cases in 2022 and more than double the 68 cases reported in 2021. Contrastingly, in 2015, the state had only seven reported cases.
During the 2023 legislative session, Attorney General Knudsen’s office played a pivotal role in drafting and passing House Bill 112, which enhances penalties for sex traffickers and their patrons. The bill also equips prosecutors with additional tools to bring sex traffickers to justice, expands the definition of human trafficking, and strengthens efforts against the sexual abuse of children and all victims.
This new statute is already proving effective in cracking down on sex trafficking. For instance, in the past year, officials in Bozeman conducted a sting operation resulting in the arrest of 18 individuals on charges including patronizing a prostitute, criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, resisting arrest, and patronizing a victim of sex trafficking involving a child victim.
Attorney General Knudsen successfully advocated for the addition of two new human trafficking agents during the last legislative session, increasing the investigative capacity from two to four agents.
Additionally, he has heightened human trafficking training for county attorneys, Montana Highway Patrol Troopers, and law enforcement cadets at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. He played a key role in launching the Sentinel Project, a collaborative effort between the Montana Department of Justice and non-governmental organizations, aimed at enhancing human trafficking training and public education across 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).