Human sex trafficking on the rise in Montana

Human sex trafficking in Montana is on the rise. Missoula Police investigated seven cases in 2017, and eight cases in 2018. Officials say more cases are probably unreported.

Kat Werner, the assistant director of the school of social work at the University of Montana, said human sex trafficking is the second largest illegal industry in the U.S. She said getting statistics about sex trafficking is difficult to accurately report because it's an underground industry. 

UM hosted a sex trafficking training to professionals on Wednesday to educate Montanans about the growing illegal industry. 

January is national slavery and human trafficking prevention month. To raise awareness, the Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force in collaboration with Soroptimist International of Whitefish invited commercial sexual exploitation expert Peter Qualliotine, to talk about how the Missoula community can come together to tackle the growing issue. 

Werner said in Montana, sex trafficking recruitment is often done through social media. She offers this tip to parents to prevent their children from becoming victims. 

"I think especially for parents who are worried about 'what's my teenager doing it online.' I think this is something to really think about," Werner said. "What are safe mechanisms, so to say, and conversations that should be had with your child about safe online use of social media."

Werner adds if you're at events with lots of foot traffic, to keep an extra eye on loved ones. 

Some warning signs to look out for victims of sex trafficking is physical signs of abuse and poor physical health. This may include physical restraint, confinement, or torture signs. 

Werner said the sex trafficking industry predominately affects women and does not discriminate age or race. She believes ending sex trafficking starts with ending the demand for it. 

Qualliotine said getting educated on human sex trafficking and getting involved with local task forces can make a difference. 

To get involved with the Missoula Human Trafficking task force click here

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