Monday marked World Day Against Trafficking and Flathead County kicked off an initiative in conjunction that aims to bring people at risk of exploitation back into the fold.
The special project launched by the county's Human Trafficking Task Force aims to hand out "dignity bags" to people who are identified as at-risk by law enforcement.
"Every year millions of women and children [including] some boys are trafficked across the United States and here with the Human Trafficking Task Force we've recognized that a communication gap sometimes exists with law enforcement and so we want to bridge that gap," said Flathead County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Jeanne Parker who is part of the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The Dignity Bag project will equip all law enforcement patrol cars throughout the county with a backpack filled with personal care items, water and non-perishable snack items as well as with information on human trafficking indicators and numbers to call for support.
The bags will be offered to anyone that officers feel could benefit from one. Law enforcement hopes the project will help them reach the hidden and transient populations that are vulnerable to trafficking and bring them back into the fold.
Detective Alan Brooks, who has been working sex trafficking cases in the county for more than a decade, says last year the Montana Internet Crimes against Children identified 12 underage children involved with traffickers and over 50 underage children exploited.
Brooks says victims rarely seek assistance or come forward asking for help due to fear of law enforcement or retaliation from traffickers. He told MTN News that the hope is that the dignity bags will create an ability to build trust and communication with a vulnerable population.
"In the dignity bags they have the opportunity to not only use the resources for themselves but to share them and the information that is passed in those bags -- whether it be hotlines to reach law enforcement, or victim services or just the ability to report information which is often not reported to law enforcement -- because of the distrust those that are involved in it have," Brooks said.
The program will be ongoing and items supplied in the dignity bags will change with seasons. Items have been donated by private parties, non-profits as well as multiple law enforcement agencies across the Flathead Valley.
Anyone who would like to donate to the project can contact the Human Trafficking Task Force coordinator in Kalispell at (406) 751-2175.