BILLINGS – Human trafficking is an ugly truth, affecting dozens of people, including kids, in the Billings community every day. But it’s often a hidden problem, and victims fall through the cracks.
The national Red Sand Project aims to “fill the cracks” that those victims fall through but literally filling cracks in the ground around the city with red sand to raise awareness. Organizers held an event Thursday at Montana State University-Billings to raise awareness.
“The victims are generally very young children who have been abused,” said Melanie Tripp, who organized the event. “They are foster kids, they’re runaways, there is addiction in the family. But sometimes not. It can happen to anyone. The problem is that it hides and people don’t see it so they don’t talk about it and they don’t know what’s going on.”
In the last few years, 89 self-identified victims of human trafficking have come forward in Billings, and more are likely out there. Many were trafficked for the first time as teenagers.
It’s called “survival sex”: vulnerable people are exploited and used for someone else’s benefit with the promise of a place to stay or just a meal.
“Often they’re manipulated,” said Tripp. “Their minds are kidnapped by their trafficker. They don’t know they’re a victim.”
This is often the problem in providing help or even prosecuting a case. Those who have been victimized think they have done something wrong.
“It’s very hard to rehabilitate a trafficking victim,” said Tripp. “The only thing we really can do is to lean on the support of our victims’ services here in Billings – places like Tumbleweed and the YWCA and Her Campaign, Operation Underground Railroad. They all have the tools to be able to help those who have become victims of abuse.”
For more on the Red Sand Project, click here.
To learn more about the human trafficking issue in Billings, watch this Q2 investigation: