An article I published earlier this month, reflected on the many causes and interests that are recognized as "observances" for the month of January. On that list, one that stood out, was the ongoing disturbing problem of human trafficking across the globe. To add to that is the sad truth that Montana is not exempt from the issue. There's no doubt, human trafficking is one of the most surreal crimes to spread across the nation and the world.

The measure to proclaim January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month was established late last year by the Biden Administration. The measure hopes to raise awareness about the problem and to advocate for survivors of human trafficking. Efforts are also being made to encourage victims to speak out against their abusers in the hopes of one day bringing an end to human trafficking.

According to the Montana Division of Criminal Investigations, and as revealed in an article I published last August, nearly 300 human trafficking cases nationwide are reported monthly. On a scaled study, this consisted of 84 minors of child sex trafficking, 37 missing children, and nearly 140 verified were adult victims of human trafficking.

In conjunction with National Human Trafficking Awareness month, everyone young and old alike should follow the steps below as provided by Youth Village to stay safe:

*Be Aware and Observant of Your Surroundings - If you feel someone is following you and is acting suspicious, notify a trusted friend or closest safe place immediately.

*Refrain From Walking Alone - Follow the buddy system and walk with other friends and family members and even a pet. Carry protection such as pepper spray or a taser. They are legal in Montana. Maybe even go the extent of taking a self-defense training course. Don't let your life be cut short by the senseless act of a human trafficker.

*Don't Meet Strangers Anywhere Other Than a Public Location - Never put yourself up against anything that could cause you harm, no matter how sweet or kind they come off. For those visiting dating sites, conduct the first several dates in a public place and make sure to do a background check on your date.

*Be Careful Who You Interact With On Social Media - Social media can be a breeding ground for predators. Use good judgement, and work on keeping some of your most personal info online to private settings.

*Don't Trust An Outsider Right Away, Use Good Instincts, Plus Make Sure to Have Your Phone Charged Under Any Circumstance - This includes giving family and friends permission to technically track your phone so they know where you are if needed.

*Find a Good Support System - If you believe you're being stalked, seek help from local law enforcement or a human resource advocate.

Signs to Watch for to determine if Someone is a Victim of Human Trafficking

The Montana Department of Justice in conjunction with the Montana Department of Human Resources has outlined behaviors of potential human trafficking victims:

*The signs include a young person that is apprehensive to partake in conversation. They may avoid eye contact and appear tired, physically abused, and malnourished.

*They may even have some issues conveying what their name is or the place they reside, as victims may be forced to move to different locations within a 24 hour period.

*Victims may tend to have clothes on that don't fit or are not ideal for certain times of the year. A person wearing shorts and a tank top, but no jacket in the middle of winter may be an indicator.

*The victim may have little or no money on hand and may be unable to provide a valid ID or documents. If they have anything at all, they might resort to carrying it in a plastic bag.

*A dominating person and someone the victim fears may be accompanying them. Watch for signs of someone who seems "out of place". For example, an individual whose behavior is inappropriate with the suspected victim.

*Some signs also include seeing boys and girls loitering outside truck stops, casinos and convenience stores. In these areas, they may even be seen making contact with men they don't know or choosing to get into random vehicles.

If you believe someone is being trafficked or if you feel victimized, please reach out to the Montana Human Trafficking Hotline at 833-406-STOP.  Also, contact local law enforcement or communicate online with Lifeguard Group here -> LIFEGUARD GROUP, an organization dedicated to combating human trafficking. You can also reach the Montana branch at (406) 396-5053. Throughout the year and NOW during National Human Trafficking Awareness Month do your part to stay safe and know the signs.

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