By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Human Trafficking & Why It's Here: An Introduction

This article is the first part of a series about human trafficking in the Hi-Line.


While the Bakken is close by, residents along the Hi-Line might not want to admit or recognize that a growing problem is only a few hundred miles away along our main corridor. Human trafficking has been widely reported around the nation in the last few years, but a hot spot that seems to attract big business sits in and around the Williston area.

Only 10 years ago residents may remember a time where Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota were quiet. North Dakota was actually reporting a loss of population. To imagine what could bring such radical changes in just a decade is something not foreseen for the area. With new technology the oil and gas boom began, bringing in big money. Workers who flood the area come from all walks of life, some of them are a little bit more rough around the edges.

Senator Jon Tester and Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter visited Poplar inAugust to discuss human trafficking in Eastern Montana and along the Indian Reservations. Reservations in particular are a target for human trafficking, as jurisdictional issues that can cause problems with punishment for those caught trafficking people. The meeting brought up a lack of funds and resources to help with increased crime.

FBI Public Information Officer for our district, Todd Palmer, explained that Montana hasn't really seen certain types of human trafficking, but prostitution is more than likely a problem with the Bakken so close by. He said that metro areas are more likely to be the target of business deals, but rural areas will see more business done online, on websites like Craigslist and The recent arrest of a Glasgow resident who was soliciting a minor for sex brought the issue out in the open for locals.

“There's going to be a greater influx of this type of crime at this time in the area,” Palmer said, referring to the direct path to big oil boom areas. “Runaway kids can easily end up in the sex trade, and a lot of them are from the foster care programs.”

What is human trafficking?

While local residents might picture a foreigner flown into the country and forced into slavery, it actually is a little bit more in depth. The reality is that the nation is seeing a lot more domestic human trafficking. People are treated like slaves and forced, coerced, or brought in by fraud into a life where they must provide services against their will.

Those who find themselves in this life lose one thing that America is known for, their freedom. The reason this business is thriving is because there is low risks for those involved, and the profits are incredibly high. Unfortunately there's also a high demand, meaning that criminals are looking to gain more supply.

“There's not really one type of demographic for those soliciting services,” Palmer said. “It's also easy for those looking to solicit.”

Types of Trafficking

There are actually several types of trafficking. All types of trafficking are focused on victims who are led into the life by false promises or hope for jobs, money and stability. The law recognizes three age groups, those under 18-years-old and forced into the sex trade, those forced into labor type services, and those who are forced into into the sex trade as adults.

Globally forced labor is an issue. People are forced to work in homes and in businesses. These types of people are what you might picture working in a sweat shop. Migrant workers are also led into the life with promises of them working off their debt to bring family members to America. Labor can be forced to those who end up being nannies, and servants in the home. This can be applied to both adults and children. Child soldiers can also be considered a form of human trafficking, those instances are widely reported in areas of Africa. This type of trafficking has not really been found in Montana.

“What we're seeing around the Bakken is sex trafficking,” Palmer said. “Even with a large agriculture area, we aren't really seeing hardly any forced labor here.”

Local Issues For Glasgow And The Hi-Line

While Glasgow isn't in the direct line of danger for trafficking, Palmer did note that the bigger issues would be sex trafficking and pimps looking for those more susceptible online. Those being trafficked could also easily pass through on Highway 2, headed for Williston or other larger cities. With more men in the Bakken area, there's more demand for services.

Palmer also stated that massage parlors, Reike massage and day spas could also be a front for trafficking. Other businesses are often used for a cover on the black market type of business. Sometimes bars are also used as a place to do business. Hotels are often places they frequent, at times offering large tips to rent a room without identification.

Just like drugs, the business is drawn to money and often go hand in hand. Palmer explained that dealing with a human trafficking case is practically identical to a drug or gang case. “Drugs you can sell only one time, but girls can be sold hundreds of times,” Palmer said.

While drugs seem to be more of a visible problem in the county, the biggest dangers are young teenagers looking for a way out. Glasgow Police Chief Bruce Barstad and Palmer both discussed situations where girls could easily be baited from social media sites. Teens who post statuses on Facebook about wanting a different life, hating their parents and feeling alone can find the promise of money and a better life tempting.

“Kids who can't be fed, where their home life is worse than that lifestyle, that's who might be a target for pimps,” Barstad said.

Those soliciting for sex, for both adults and children, are also a part of the crime. While they often go online to find sex, the idea is that perhaps those involved in prostitution want to be in the business and that there are no victims in the crime. The truth is that those involved in prostitution are often in a cycle much like a domestic violence victim, with little options to escape and not a lot of control over the money that's handed over after the deal is made.

Because of the internet, the ease for soliciting is very enticing and the supply is nearby with the Bakken just a few hours drive from town.

Next in the human trafficking series: Readers will learn about the psychology behind the pimp, the victims and the Johns who solicit.


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