The Montana Department of Justice launched a poster campaign Thursday aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking in the state. Five-thousand of the posters will be put up in rest stops and other public locations around the state.
A bill passed by the state legislature created the poster campaign.They are written in both English and Spanish and highlight a toll free number to a national help line and a Q-R code for smart phones.
Attorney General Tim Fox held a press conference in the state capitol building to unveil the poster. He said the half the number of people trafficked into the US each year are children, and many are sold into prostitution.
“Human trafficking is a modern day slavery," Fox said. "It’s been identified as a $32 billion dollar a year industry and it is the fastest growing element of criminal industry in the world.”
Fox said one child being trafficked in Montana is one too many. Whitefish resident Diane Yarus advocated for the creation of the poster during this year’s legislature. She said the anonymous hotline on the poster has proven to be a very important tool for law enforcement to identify where trafficking is occurring. Yarus also said the posters may serve as a deterrent to traffickers themselves.
“It lets them know that Montana understands this issue, we don’t have our head in the sand and think this is merely something that happens overseas or in large urban areas, it is happening in Montana,” Yarus said.
The Department of Justice said other locations such as hotels, convenience stores, or truck stops may eventually be required to display the poster as well as rest areas.
Officials say the Department is aware of increased criminal activity in areas around the Bakken Oil Boom. Criminal Investigation Division Administrator Bryan Lockerby said there is anecdotal evidence pointing to increased sex trafficking in the Bakken region.
“We have lots of information out there but we haven’t been able to track any of it down. So, in other words, it’s like trying to capture smoke, we’re just having a difficult time getting people to talk to us. We hear stories and that’s about it,” he said.
Lockerby says other laws passed by the legislature this year may lead to better tracking of the level of human trafficking in the state.