It's by far one of the most disturbing and surreal crimes to spread across the nation and the world, and for some time now, its existance has marked its vile presence in Montana.

The dark and painstaking scenario of human/sex trafficking is prominent and resilient, and most upsetting of all; many of the victims are minors! We have all heard these reports and stories time after time, but what becomes bothersome is that there seems to be no end in sight for these crimes.

According to the Montana Division of Criminal Investigations Task Force for Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking, 300 cases nationwide, were reported in the month of August. Broken down, this consisted of 84 minors of child sex trafficking, 37 missing children, and the other 141 verified were adult victims of human trafficking. Of all these cases, four stemmed from Billings, Montana this month. According to the Montana Department of Justice, Montana had 7 cases reported in 2015, with a hike of 68 cases recognized in 2021!

Montanans, we are clearly not exempt from this attack on innocent children and adults. As law enforcement works to do what it can to put these predators behind bars, we as friends, parents, grandparents and more, need to instill in ourselves and our loved ones, safety precautions of such monstrosities.

Outlined by Youth Village and measured by good common sense, practice these safety tips:

*Always 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 - It's best to follow the buddy system and walk with other friends and family members and/or your pets. Plus, carry protection to include pepper spray and even a taser. Yes, they're legal in Montana, so if someone's legitimately bothering you, zap away while yelling for help.Plus, and go the extent of taking a self-defense training course. Nobody gets to invade your space without your permission. Good rule to follow. Be true and honest to yourself. You only have one life to live, don't let it be cut short by the senseless act of a human trafficker and intruder.

*Don't Meet Strangers Anywhere Other Than a Public Location - Even though they may look and act sweet, don't put yourself up against anything that could cause you harm. Especially for those entertaining dating sites, the first several dates should always be conducted in a public environment.

*Be Careful Who You "Friend" and Interact With On Social Media - In this day and age, 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, And By All Means, Have Your Phone Charged  Under Any Circumstance - This includes having a few family members or friends set up to track your phone by GPS so that they know where you are at any given time.

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

So, now that you are diligently working to protect yourself from human trafficking, what are the signs to watch for to determine if someone else is a victim of human trafficking? The Montana Department of Justice in conjuction with the Montana Department of Human Resources has outlined indicators/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 to be 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.. For example, 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. Plus, 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 doesn't logically seem to fit the bill. For example, an older 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, plus communicate online with an organization dedicated to combating human trafficking, known as the Lifeguard Group. You can also reach the Montana branch at (406) 396-5053

Together, let's work to NOT be a statistic of human/sex trafficking but rather a solution to end it.

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