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National Human Trafficking Awareness Day Recognizes "Heinous" Crime

Montana officials rescued 5 minors and 22 adults from human trafficking last year. (Imagens Evangélicas/Flickr)
Montana officials rescued 5 minors and 22 adults from human trafficking last year. (Imagens Evangélicas/Flickr)
January 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and Montana is not immune to the crime often referred to as modern-day slavery. Human trafficking involves labor or sex slavery and can leave victims physically and emotionally scarred.

Although overall numbers are small, the Montana Department of Justice reports the state rescued five juveniles in 2016, compared with just one in 2015. The state also rescued 22 adults from trafficking, an 83-percent increase over the previous year.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox says the number of cases has gone up in the past year.

"It's a troubling thing that people would do this kind of crime," he lamented. "It's a heinous crime. We're going to try to stop it as best we can, but we need our Montana citizens to help us out."

Fox encourages people to contact law enforcement if they see signs of trafficking, such as a person who is living with his or her employer or someone who doesn't have an ID, since traffickers typically take a person's identification.

On Wednesday, the traveling portrait exhibit "Faces of Freedom: Voices Calling for the End of Modern-Day Slavery" is in Helena to raise awareness about trafficking. The exhibit also will make stops in Billings, Kalispell and Missoula.

This week, the website Backpage.com shut down a section of its website that had been used for sex trafficking and other crimes. The classified ad website is known for advertising escorts and other illegal adult services, and a 2016 Senate report said Backpage officials acknowledged it was a hub for sex trafficking, especially of minors.

Fox says law enforcement has used these websites against traffickers, but he doubts that just because a website such as Backpage is shut down, trafficking will be shut down with it.

"Unfortunately, what we suspect may happen is it will drive that illegal criminal business to some other area of the internet," he said. "So we'll continue to watch these developments as they happen."

Fox is concerned the governor's proposed budget cuts to the state's Department of Criminal Investigations and Highway Patrol could hinder the campaign against human trafficking.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT