GREAT FALLS — As human trafficking has become an increasingly relevant topic, Montana Attorney General Knudsen is raising awareness of the illegal practice.
Knudsen stated, "Most Montanans don't think this is really a problem in Montana. They seem to think it's an out of state problem. A big city problem. It is a huge issue in Montana."
He explained, "It's extremely relevant in Montana. I can guarantee probably most people in Montana have seen a human trafficking victim, but because they didn't know what they were seeing, they didn't know to report it."
As cases of trafficking continue, Knudsen emphasizes everyone must do their part in knowing the signs of potential traffickers.
He explained, "If you meet this person, if you happen to talk to them, a lot of times they won't be able to tell you their name, and they won't be able to tell you where they are. That is a very strong dead giveaway because these people are usually given false names by their traffickers, and they're being driven around so much state-to-state, city-to-city. A lot of times, they won't know where they are."
To avoid any potential threat or danger of human trafficking as a victim or a witness, Knudsen recommends these ways to ensure proper safety.
"Trust your gut." Knudsen says. "If you're at a truck stop or if you're at a grocery store or something and something doesn't seem right, just make the call. Call 911. We'd much rather it get reported and end up being nothing, than letting a victim slip through our fingers and continue to be victimized."
To mark Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Knudsen teamed up with Governor Greg Gianforte in Missoula to host a forum on the state’s efforts to end human trafficking.
They were joined by representatives of the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, Montana Highway Patrol, Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Missoula County Police Department, LifeGuard Group, and community task forces.
With human trafficking cases on the rise in Montana, the roundtable discussion focused on strategies to raise awareness of human trafficking, especially among young Montanans, and hold criminals accountable.
Lowell Hochhalter, president and founder of the LifeGuard Group in Missoula, has helped educate thousands of middle and high school students on the dangers of human trafficking.
“These kids want to help each other,” Hochhalter said. “Let’s give them the tools, and then give them the permission to help.”
Since 2015, the Montana Department of Justice has tracked a 485% increase in human trafficking cases in Montana. Seven human trafficking cases were tracked in 2015, compared to 41 cases in 2021.
“Soon after my appointment, the attorney general made it clear it was a priority we train each and every trooper on the road to identify human trafficking activity,” Colonel Steve Lavin said during the discussion. “Montana is a big state, we have troopers in every corner of the state, and they make a lot of contact with people. This is an important problem, and we aim to solve it.”
Earlier in January, the governor proclaimed the month as Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Throughout January, the governor and attorney general are encouraging Montanans to join the fight to end human trafficking by learning potential signs and committing to report suspected activity to law enforcement.
The Montana Department of Justice provides the following potential indicators of human trafficking activity:
- Being hesitant to engage in conversation. Eyes may be downcast, and victims may avoid eye contact.
- A poor physical state – tired, malnourished, or show signs of physical abuse or torture.
- Trouble responding to what their name is or where they are. Victims’ whereabouts and names change frequently.
- Wearing clothes that do not fit the climate or situation they are in.
- Lack of control over money and personal possessions. May also carry very few possessions in a plastic bag.
- Accompanied by a dominating person or someone they seem fearful of. The controlling person may be someone who does not seem to fit, such as a much older individual or an individual with behavior seemingly inappropriate with the suspected victim.
- A young girl or boy hanging around outside a convenience store, truck stop, casino, or other location. The individual may be approaching different vehicles or people they do not seem to know.
If you suspect human trafficking, call 911 in an emergency. In non-emergency situations call 1-833-406-STOP (1-833-406-7867) or reach an advocate via 406stop.com [lnks.gd]. If you see suspected traffickers, do not intervene, and remain at a safe distance. Take pictures of the trafficker, victim, and vehicle license plate if possible.