Gov. Gianforte and AG Knudsen

Gov. Gianforte and AG Knudsen lead discussion on human trafficking with law enforcement, nonprofit, and community leaders.

MISSOULA — To mark Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Governor Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Austin Knudsen teamed up to lead a roundtable on the state’s efforts to end human trafficking. 

“This Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we’re encouraging Montanans to be part of the solution to end human trafficking in Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Through an all-of-state effort among law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, schools, private businesses, and each and every one of us, we can reverse recent trends and protect the vulnerable and our communities from these despicable crimes.”

“Human trafficking and sexual slavery are happening in Montana and we can’t ignore it. That’s why fighting human trafficking is one of my top priorities as Attorney General,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “It’s important that we continue to bring together our network of law enforcement, local task forces, non-profits, and other agencies for discussions like we did today to end the problem. I also urge every Montanan to join us in our fight to eliminate human trafficking – educate yourself about the problem, learn the signs, and report suspected human traffickers.”

The governor and attorney general were joined at the roundtable 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-percent 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 and 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. 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.

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