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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Lawmakers Address Prostitution, Human Trafficking

Rep. Kimberly Dudik (D) Missoula.
Montana Legislature

Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would deal with one of the worst side effects of the oil boom in Eastern Montana: the trafficking of women and underage girls for prostitution.

Stephanie Anderson, who describes herself as a sex trafficking victim told the House Judiciary Committee about her introduction to the sex trade.

“I was on vacation with my father the first time I was approached by a man. He was very well dressed. He could have been anybody sitting next to you. He came up, took my hand, and took me to the pornography aisle, and then he took me to the bathroom away from my parents. It happened in fifteen minutes.”

The committee heard more harrowing testimony like hers, as House Bill 89 was formally introduced. The bill gives law enforcement several new tools to deal with people who force women and girls into prostitution, whether it’s in the new oil towns of the Bakken region or anywhere else in the state.

House Bill 89 also makes the victims of sex trafficking eligible for state aid to re-adjust back to normal life. Missoula Police detective Guy Baker testified about a teenager lured into what she thought was a chance at a music career, only to end up being pimped out in Salt Lake City.

"And after approximately four months she returned to Montana, and had been with approximately 500 clients by her estimation. And you can imagine that this young lady cannot just attend Big Sky or Hellgate High School the next month after returning, because her world has been turned upside down.”

The Human trafficking bill makes child victims immune from prosecution, which Baker sees as the right thing for them, and also the best way to make sure their victimizers are brought to justice.

“They’re victims, and they’re going to be the best witness if they choose to cooperate with you, to hold a child predator accountable for their actions.”

The bill also defines a new crime called “sexual servitude”, defined as forcing someone to engage in commercial sexual activity. If it passes, both the pimps and the customers of child prostitutes face a prison sentence, forfeiture of their property, and a lifetime on the sex offender registry. It’s similar to laws already passed in other states. The bill's sponsor, Missoula Representative Kimberly Dudik, says that’s important because it keeps the traffickers from avoiding punishment by just crossing state lines.

“We don’t want to create loopholes for traffickers to get around when states neighboring us are successful in prosecution it helps build a case for our own prosecutors to build on.”

Dudik introduced the bill at the behest of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, and the Soroptimist service organization, which is pushing human trafficking legislation around the country. The Soroptimists brought a very big visual aid to their news conference outside the state capitol: a full-size, tractor-trailer rig covered with the message “Help Stop Human Trafficking”, and the toll-free number of a help line. The organization’s aim is to literally get the message on the road, to be seen by motorists around the state who might also be witnesses to acts of human trafficking in progress.

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