A bill aimed at raising awareness about human sex trafficking in Montana by starting in schools is making its way through the Legislature.
Senate Bill 197 would require the Office of Public Instruction to devise an education plan for faculty, staff and children. The plan hopes to help them recognize signs children often exhibit when they are being recruited for sex trafficking.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in February and had its first hearing in the House Friday. The House Judiciary Committee did not immediately take action on the bill and there were no opponents at the hearing.
“This is a training and education bill, and this is our best weapon against a $32 billion industry,” said Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-West Helena, who is carrying the bill.
Gauthier said four months ago he had no idea what the term trafficking actually meant, and was reluctant to carry the bill. But he said after hearing what was happening to victims, something needed to be done about it.
Abigail St. Lawrence, lobbyist for the Montana Association of Christians supported the bill.
“Make no mistake, this happens in Montana,” St. Lawrence said. “Unfortunately with us being both on the I-15 and I-90 corridors, those are pretty substantial corridors for moving these youth - both girls and boys.”
Brian Kahn, host for Home Ground Radio, supported the bill and said he was also unaware the practice was happening in the United States.
Kahn said the recruiting procedures for human trafficking rings are predictable and take time.
“And that’s a key, because in that time that it takes there are changes of behavior that are seen in the child,” Kahn said. “So you can forewarn the child about the pitch.”
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.