Human trafficking is the trade in people. It involves recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people with the purpose of exploiting them by means of coercion. Trafficking can involve the use of force, fraud or coercion; in some cases, the parties are willing participants who believe they are providing legitimate services or receiving legitimate employment.

Montana is a fairly rural state and many people are unaware that human trafficking is taking place right here in the Big Sky. The FBI estimates that there are at least 300,000 victims of human trafficking in the United States. Montana is now known as the “Truck Stop State” due to the increased trafficking activity along corridor I-90.

Human Trafficking Data

In America, the illegal sale of human beings is conducted in relative privacy. There are no global databases or open-air markets for human trafficking, like there are for sex slaves in India and Malaysia. Nonetheless, what happens here affects American lives just as much as if it happened overseas. And it does — dollar-for-dollar, human trafficking in America is far worse than it is overseas.

In Montana a 12 year old girl sells for $900 an hour. $150 Billion per year in profit for human traffickers globally, this illegal industry is big business, capitalizing on human trade.

According to the data, every 2.5 hours a child is taken by human traffickers. 7 years is the average lifespan of a child victim once taken. 100k – 150k victims are held as commercial sex slaves. In addition, 96% of trafficking victims are female. Every trafficked child is purchased for sex, on average 5.4 times a day. Lastly, 50% of all trafficking victims are children.

Modern-day Slavery

Human trafficking is one of the most prevalent types of modern-day slavery. These crimes affect people from every country in the world – rich, poor and middle class. Women and children are often at greatest risk as are members of some indigenous groups, migrants from certain countries, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. Average age of domestic sex trafficking is 13yrs old. Seventy percent of runaways will be trafficked most within the first 72hrs of living on the streets. 

Forced Labor

Forced labor and sex trafficking are real crimes that continue to happen around the world at an alarming rate. These forms of human trafficking also occur in foreign countries and locally when organizations recruit individuals, who are undocumented and/or illegal aliens, promising them minimum wage jobs, only to force these individuals into labor once they arrive at their destination.

Even though we know people are being tricked, trafficked and even enslaved within our own country, it’s still shocking to hear these stories. It’s heartbreaking, because most of the victims aren’t aware that anything is wrong until it’s too late. 

Sex Trafficking

Trafficking is an issue that affects millions of people, yet still isn’t talked about enough. Traffickers are cunning people who know how to manipulate those around them, so they’re able to get what they want. When a minor engages in a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, as the result of force, threats of force, fraud or coercion that person is trafficked. Under such circumstances, pimping and pandering is illegal because: 1) You don’t have a choice about it. 2) They make you do it. 3) You are treated as less than human and not respected. 4) It makes you feel ashamed & embarrassed.

Sadly, humans are often treated as commodities, and this happens to both adults and children. Trafficking happens in the form of prostitution, labor, sex trafficking and child trafficking. It is a business that funds itself through the exploitation of human beings.

Organ Harvesting

Trafficking does not necessarily mean forced labor or coercion. Trafficking of human organs occurs when parts of a person’s body are removed, commonly the kidneys and liver, and sold on the illegal (black) market. Trafficked organs can be sold for vast sums of money – often hundreds or thousands of times out of the original value. Extortion and misdiagnosis of false ailments are common tactics for harvesting organs. This is a growing problem that is affecting millions of people, including children.

Human trafficking occurs in Montana

image source: krtv greatfalls

Montana has proven a safe haven for human trafficking. In 2015 and 2016, it ranked 20th in the nation for human trafficking complaints per capita. While there has been no official information released since the last report, this number is increasing each month. The number of cases tracked by the Montana Department of Justice increased from 7 in 2015 to 68 in 2021 , an increase of 871 percent . 

Nowadays, Montana is known for being the Truck Stop State. Despite the fact that some traffickers only operate in large cities such as Billings, others from neighboring states are drawn to Montana and the Dakotas because of the vast sparsely populated areas and lucrative business opportunities.

They make a circuit along I-90, stopping in Missoula, Butte, Bozeman, Billings, Williston, and Bismarck before turning around to hit the same clients on the way back.

Aside from being the truck stop state, here are key sites for Sex Trafficking in Montana 1) Brothels with a commercial façade. 2) Hotel-/Motel-Based. 3) Other Venues. 4) Pornography. 5) Home-based brothels. We also have top venues for Labor Trafficking: Traveling Sales Crews, Agriculture, Peddling Rings (door to door sales, trinkets or cleaning products), Traveling Carnivals and Domestic Work.

Since we are in the digital age, lots of kids and teenagers spend their time on the internet. And because human traffickers adapt to the digital world, these predators use the internet to hunt their victims. They post ads and set up “dates,” utilizing messaging apps on their mobile devices. 

In order to end the problem, everyone must first know it exists. Once people are aware of modern day slavery, everyone can work together to help stop this worldwide criminal epidemic.

Indicators of Human trafficking

When looking at indicators of human trafficking, the first thing that should show up is a young person who is very hesitant to engage in conversation. This is often because they are not aware of their rights and have no idea where they are. They also tend to be very fearful for their safety and the safety of others around them. This can be seen in their eyes, which always appear wary, cautious or scared.

Another indicator of a person being trafficked is that they will likely be wearing inappropriate clothes. These might be things that are too small for their age or size or even things that do not fit in the climate of the area.

The lack of control over money, personal possessions and travel documents can be a sign that a person is being trafficked. You may also hear them mention the limited amount of belongings they have with them or they seem to be under some sort of duress.

These are just some of the many indicators of trafficking. In any case, if you believe you witnessed such incident, remember to do the following:

  1. Call 911 if it’s an emergency. 
  2. If you see suspected human traffickers DO NOT INTERVENE. Remain at a safe distance and call the authorities. 
  3. If possible, take pictures/images of the suspect, victims and license plate numbers.

In Montana you can call or text 1-833-406-STOP (1-833-406-7867) to report suspected human trafficking.

Be part of the Solution!

Of the many challenges in our world, one of the worst is human trafficking. This crime fuels the sex trade, forced marriage, and labor exploitation all over the world. Sadly, there are thousands who fall victim to this form of modern day slavery each year. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Together, we can all make a difference by reporting suspicious behavior and asking questions when there are obvious signs of someone being trafficked.

We need to do more as a society to raise awareness about human trafficking and how to help victims. Let’s not be afraid to make a difference, help one person at a time, and make our communities safer.

Different ways to help?

Here are some of the links you can donate and be educated about Human trafficking. 

These organizations and services are provided for information only. 

Holistic Releaf by Design aims to provide education and awareness to our community. Together, let’s stop human trafficking and be the difference for our community! Live well, live holistic.

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