January has officially been named Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and state Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

KGVO reached out to Knudsen to talk about the issue of human trafficking in Montana.

“This month is Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and so we got together with the governor's office here at DOJ, and we decided what better way to raise awareness about sex slavery and human trafficking in Montana than by doing a joint proclamation,” said Knudsen. “That's what we did this morning, and we're really trying to put a focus on this problem in Montana because we do have a problem, Peter.”

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Knudsen said he is attempting to awaken the people of Montana to the problem.

“I think a lot of people in Montana either don't realize or maybe don't want to realize that we have a real growing human trafficking and sexual slavery problem in the state,” he said. “I can tell you firsthand that we do. This is something I'm taking very seriously here at the Department of Justice, and we're very appreciative of the governor for stepping into this one and getting on board with what we're doing over here.”

Knudsen said there are clues that Montanans can spot almost anywhere they travel throughout the state that may identify a victim of human trafficking.

“One of the really easy ones is that many times these victims can't tell you what their names are, and they can't tell you where they are,” he said. “Because number one, they've been given false names by their pimps and by their traffickers. They're being driven around so much from state to state and town to town, often multiple times in 24 hours and they may not know where they are. That's a dead giveaway. Strange clothing is a clue. They're wearing clothing that doesn't fit in, especially here in Montana. It's January. Its cold out, and they may be wearing skimpy or provocative clothing, and they're outside. That's another real dead giveaway.”

Knudsen had high praise for local nonprofit organizations such as the Lifeguard Group in Missoula, who are helping to save many of the human trafficking victims.

“The Lifeguard Group is in Missoula,” he said. “They do just a fantastic job with training. Because I tell people, I guarantee you have probably all seen a victim of human trafficking in your day to day lives. You just didn't know what to look for. So when you saw it, you didn't recognize it. Because of that, one of the things that the Lifeguard Group has done is put together some training, videos, and some different online resources, that that we link to the Department of Justice website.”

The Montana Department of Justice tracked a 485 percent increase in human trafficking cases from 2015 to 2021. In 2015, DOJ tracked seven human trafficking cases, compared to 41 in 2021.

 

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