Saturday, January 20, 2018

The horrors of human trafficking hit Montana

Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide.
Approximately 300,000 children are enslaved every year in the U.S., with the average age of the child falling between 12 and 14. In India, people often auction off their children to the highest bidder around the world.
And although not a prolific problem in Montana yet, it is here.
Mike Millburn, the deputy chief of staff for the Attorney General’s Office and Department of Justice, spoke to a group of about 30 people gathered in Columbus last Thursday about the realities of human trafficking, what authorities are doing to try to stem it and what to look for if you suspect trouble.
“We often think in Montana we should be exempt from that sort of thing,” Millburn said.
He then told the group about a case in Kalispell involving a 12-year-old girl who got online, said she was 17, ran away from home and was found in California. The man she had fled with was charged with sex trafficking.
Millburn recalled a similar case that occurred in Missoula and said the victim is not always kidnapped but sometimes coerced. He noted that children are especially vulnerable online
He spoke of a third case in Billings that involved a business hiring Asian women who were then forced into prostitution.
Millburn said that with the Bakken oil fields have come drugs and drug cartels that often involve other crime. These are some of the changes Montana is seeing and that citizens need to be aware of.
In conjunction with federal authorities, the Montana AG’s office actively investigates and enforces human trafficking laws. Nationwide, the majority of trafficking victims are children in the sex trade between the ages of 12 and 14 with only an estimated 2 percent ever being rescued or leaving “the life,” according to the AG’s website.
Authorities say the best weapon against this global criminal industry is public awareness.
In attendance at Thursday’s presentation was Tri-County Victim/Witness Advocate Manda Browning, Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy, County Commissioners Maureen Davey and Jerry Dell and state Rep. Dave Howard.
During the question and answer portion, attendees asked what to do if they saw something that didn’t look quite right also are authorities able to follow money trails? Contacting law enforcement is the first course of action, said Millburn, who asked Sheriff Brophy to explain. Brophy said to keep logs about what is being seen, write down license plate numbers, and be patient as it often takes some time before authorities are able to make visible progress on such reported situations.
Some attendees also said they believed the churches need to be more involved.
The presentation was hosted by the Stillwater Republican Women.