Governor Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Austin Knudsen hosted a press conference at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula to bring attention to the topic of slavery and human trafficking in Montana.
Surrounded by law enforcement personnel from sheriff and police departments,
Governor Gianforte opened the meeting with this statement.
“Human trafficking is happening in all of our communities across the state and we have to pull together to work on this,” said Governor Gianforte. “It’s in our urban communities, it’s in our rural communities, it’s in our tribal communities, and really no community is outside the reach of these crimes. In our tribal communities, human trafficking is also contributing to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous people. It’s a startling tragic reality, but it’s one that you all face on a daily basis.”
On Tuesday’s Talk Back show, Attorney General Knudsen appeared with Hochhalter and Colonel Steve Lavin, Commander of the Montana Highway Patrol.
Knudsen gave Hochhalter credit for bringing the topic of human trafficking to his direct attention.
“Lowell was one of the first guys that really grabbed me about a year and a half ago during my campaign,” said Knudsen. “He whacked me upside the head with a two by four and told me just how bad a problem this is in Montana, because I really had no idea. But this is just a tremendous, tremendous problem, Peter, its human trafficking. It’s sex slavery. It’s modern day slavery. People here in Montana really don’t truly understand, I think just how big a problem this is. We’d like to think this is Montana and it doesn’t exist here and that it’s a big city problem. But I’m here to tell you it absolutely is an issue. Lowell can speak much more eloquently about than I can. But yeah, that’s why we’re here this morning.”
At the press conference, Hochhalter related an experience that clarified the need for speed and urgency in responding to human trafficking incidents. He referenced an incident that occurred at the Wye that was called in to the Montana Human Trafficking Hotline.
“I have two 13 year-olds offering me sex,” Hochhalter related. “Can somebody come out and help. Two of our deputies responded, and by the time they got there, they were gone. That was on Thursday. The next Tuesday, I was in the sheriff’s office and the captain of detectives walked up to me said, ‘Hey, you’re going to want to pay attention to this. This just came across from the national hotline. Apparently there are two girls out at the Wye knocking on truckers doors. This was the same incident that occurred days earler. I mean, if we were late, then we were still late five days later.”
In other words, it took five days for the message to get from Missoula to the National Hotline.
Governor Gianforte closed the meeting by thanking all the participants and emphasizing action to solve the problem of human trafficking.
“First I want to say thank you for the work that you’re all doing,” said Gianforte. “I’m taking two messages away from this. One is awareness, whether that’s the (hotline) number promoted in restrooms across the state or on delivery trucks, and the other is we need to have the resources to be aggressive on the law enforcement side, so that this becomes a hostile environment for these criminals here in Montana.”
The Montana Human Trafficking Hotline is 833-406-STOP.
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