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Missoula Red Sand Project

Picture from the Missoula Red Sand Project, May 2015, at the University of Montana, courtesy of Rep. Kimberly Dudik.

Montanans are taking a stand against human trafficking during April, Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Both these issues are intricately intertwined with human trafficking.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery that forces women, men and children to participate in commercial sex (such as prostitution or pornography) or forced labor (such as migrant farming, construction work or domestic service) through force, fraud or coercion. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 57,700 people are victims of modern slavery in the U.S. It is the second-biggest international crime industry worldwide, worth an estimated $9.5 billion in the U.S. alone. A 2014 International Labour Office report estimated global profits from human trafficking at $150 billion annually; $99 billion from sexual exploitation and $51 billion from labor exploitation.

Nobody is immune from trafficking, regardless of age, gender, education or class. The anti-trafficking group Polaris Project reports victims are sometimes tricked into trafficking through fraudulent job offers, including fake modeling contracts. Other times a trafficker may recruit a victim by pretending to be romantically interested, making false promises about trips and activities, or through false promises of financial support or shelter.

In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported more than 75 percent of cases involved sex trafficking, 13 percent labor trafficking, and 3 percent both labor and sex trafficking. A majority of victims are women or girls (in 90 percent of sex trafficking and 57 percent of labor trafficking cases). Children’s vulnerability showed, with 33 percent of sex trafficking and 16 percent of labor trafficking cases involving children.

Montana is not immune. Montana has had increased trafficking reports in recent years but also successful prosecutions. Examples include when, in February of 2018, a federal jury in Billings convicted a man of trafficking women and minors for sex following an interstate prostitution investigation; he forced women and girls to engage in sex acts in Montana and North Dakota. In October of 2016, a Missoula man and his co-defendant were convicted and sentenced for transporting a person with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. In May of 2017, a Bozeman man was convicted of sex trafficking a minor after he used a website to solicit prostitution clients for two teenage girls.

Online sexual exploitation is a growing trend through which traffickers use apps to target, recruit and coerce children. The 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report reported, “tens of thousands of children globally,” from the very young to adolescents, “are sexually exploited online, and the number appears to be growing.” This fact alone requires us to educate ourselves and raise awareness of human trafficking — to protect Montana’s children.

One way to raise awareness is to participate in a Red Sand Project. Participants fill a sidewalk crack with red sand, documenting the sidewalk transformation on social media using #RedSandProject. The sand reminds us to recognize the overlooked, like trafficking victims, who fall through society’s cracks. Attendees can learn the red flags of trafficking so they have the tools to stop human trafficking and protect children.

Events are scheduled on April 25 in Missoula in front of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, 12-6 p.m. (by the Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force); on April 25 at the Flathead Valley Community College (by Soroptimist International of Whitefish); and April 26 in Billings, 12-1:30 p.m., at MSUB Peaks to Plains Park (by Zonta Club of Billings, Yellowstone County Human Trafficking Task Force and MSUB Women’s & Gender Studies).

Additional locations are being added. If you are interested in participating, email Ensuring Montana’s children are safe is something we can all do together.

Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, is a third-term state representative who worked with Montana’s attorney general to improve Montana’s human trafficking laws.

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