Online recruiting of young girls is a growing problem that more and more experts put under the heading of “human trafficking.” It’s a problem that crosses borders, and includes Northwest Montana.President of Soroptimists International of Kalispell Diane Yarus definesd human trafficking as modern day slavery “includes forced labor, domestic labor, women who are encouraged to come to the United States for a good job, and they end up, really in a domestic situation that doesn’t give them much freedom. It’s men who are forced into war,” Yarus said the biggest concern is the sex trafficking of minors.
“Because it is something that is happening in the USA and to US children, and a lot of times when people hear about that, they’re thinking about Nepal or Cambodia, and those types of environments, and it does happen here,” Yarus said any commercial sex transaction that involves someone under the age of 18 is by default human trafficking.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry says in his 26-years of law enforcement in the Flathead Valley he hasn’t seen a case where someone was abducted off the streets and sold into forced labor. “But if we want to define human trafficking, and talk about human trafficking as crimes specifically sex crimes committed against children, and sex crimes committed against children on the internet or on the computer, then that’s a huge problem,” Curry said, “not just nationwide, but everywhere in Montana and certainly here in the Flathead Valley.” Curry said the Sheriff’s department has one investigator working almost full time on the computer dealing with sexual offenses against children, and a full time forensic interviewer dedicated to these cases. He says the department has eight detectives altogether.
“So, it’s a huge problem, I think it’s become a huge societal problem and the computer and the internet and social networking sites and these other sites have just- I don’t think caused the problem to worsen, it’s just provided the perpetrators and avenue to reach out further than they ever could before,” Curry said.
Yarus gives some examples of situations of trafficking in northwest Montana. Some have hit the headlines like a case in Missoula involving a prostitution ring operating off of Craig’s List last year. In the Flathead a Kalispell woman was charged this past summer with forcing a 13 year old girl into prostitution allegedly to support the woman’s drug habit. Yarus says trafficking is often linked to drugs and gangs, “they sell drugs; once they sell it, it’s gone, but they can sell a woman or a girl over and over again, and it’s a billion dollar industry in the United States alone,” Yarus said.
She said a community-wide training is coming to the Flathead in April. It’s called “Do you know Lacy.” The training is focused on a broad spectrum of people who may be able to spot exploitation in a young person if they know what to look for. The “Lacy” of the trainings title is a teenaged girl, likely born in the community, insecure about who she is, interested in being popular, and interested in being sought after by the opposite sex. It’s a girl with familiar vulnerabilities that traffickers prey on, “the girls aren’t doing anything wrong, the families aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong,” Yarus said, “it’s just, the people who are committing these crimes know how to exploit their innate vulnerabilities, there’s nothing wrong about it, it’s just they know how to exploit that.”
Yarus said the training will break out into groups of law enforcement, social workers, youth advocates like teachers or youth pastors, community advocates, and a fifth group for men-only called “Defenders” with a focus on stopping exploitation by not participating.
Soroptimists is also hosting a documentary film at Flathead Valley Community College next week called “Sex and Money” which looks at the trafficking industry in the U-S. It’s in the Arts and Technology Building on Thursday the 23rd at 2:30, and Friday the 24th at 6:30. Yarus says it’s a good starting off point to open up the discussion about trafficking, and how the community as a whole can look to stamp it out.
For more information about the upcoming “Do you know Lacy” training, go to www.sharedhope.org.