Human Trafficking

Assistant U.S Attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Cyndee Peterson and the Children's Justice Bureau Chief, Dana Toole answer questions concerning human trafficking.The Q & A held in the UC ballroom is part of the 2014 Mansfield Conference titled Fight for Hope and Freedom.

It has been nearly three years since former University of Montana student Richard Carpita pleaded guilty to pimping girls on Craiglist.

What started as a beer fund turned into a human trafficking ring.

The Craiglist advertisement read, "For a good time, call … ”

Carpita has about 17 years left to serve at Montana State Prison for aggravated promotion of prostitution — defined by the Montana Code as someone who coerces another person into prostitution or instigates child prostitution.

Of the four young women involved, three were under the age of 18, including a 16-year-old runaway.

Carpita’s case shines light on a truth many would not suspect — human trafficking exists in Missoula.

“To think that your community is immune would be somewhat naïve,” said Special Agent Carla Croft on Wednesday afternoon at the 2014 Mansfield Conference on Human Trafficking, Montana and the World.

In the United States, some national estimates project 17,550 people are trafficked each year, according to conference organizers.


'THERE ARE THINGS THAT WE KNOW, WHICH IS PIMPS FOLLOW MONEY. THAT IS WHY THE BAKKEN IS SUCH A HUGE CONCERN TO US, BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE THE MONEY IS RIGHT NOW.'

- CYNDEE PETERSON,

ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY


Croft said recent investigations have shown many people flock to Native American reservations to avoid trafficking laws. 

“Washington has begun to look at certain areas where it is Indian Country, such as Montana, Minnesota and Arizona,” Croft said. “While not forgotten, (these areas) have not been in the forefront … we are noticing that is something we need to attack.” 

Like the case of Carpita, Croft said many minors are sold from online sites. Another popular site, backpage.com, offers an “adult escorts” tab for cities across the world.

As of Wednesday night, Missoula had 48 escort options to choose from on the site. They had names like "Up all night" and "You can't miss this," which were followed by dollar signs. 

In 2013 the Montana Legislature and State Attorney General’s Office expanded local laws in attempt to prevent and punish human trafficking, said Cyndee Peterson, an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

This was in response to receiving reports of increased prostitution in eastern Montana communities teeming with people who have come to find work in the Bakken oil boom.

“There are things that we know, which is pimps follow money,” Peterson said. “That is why the Bakken is such a huge concern to us, because that is where the money is right now.”

Organized crime has the reputation of being attached to drug trafficking, but that is a vanishing source of revenue. There is less risk and more profit in selling people, she said, and a person can be used over and over again.

The Montana Human Trafficking Task Force was established in 2012, five years after the Department of Justice directed every United States Attorney’s office to create a task force to combat trafficking.

Peterson said the task force’s focus is to train first responders and shelters in handling people who have been trafficked.

Detective Guy Baker, a task force officer, said he has tried to change the mentality that the people being trafficked are the “bad guys.”

“The whole time I have worked these cases I have tried to get the message out there that the girl is the victim and she is going to be a very good witness,” he said.   

Instead, women who have been coerced into selling their bodies are often cited for prostitution.

Whether for sex or for work, human trafficking is often an issue of “hiding in plain sight,” he said. Education is one way to stop the crime.

“This is not just a police problem, but a community problem,” Baker said. “We need to get the message out to both the University and the Missoula community that this is an issue, what it looks like and that it's happening at a frequency that is greater than most people realize.” 


katheryn.houghton@umontana.edu

@UMHoughton