BILLINGS - The FBI honored has the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force for its outstanding contributions.
The agency has recognized 50 groups or individuals every year since 1990 in efforts to fight crime, terrorism, drugs and violence.
The task force received the Director's Community Leadership Award.
A co-chair of the task force says it's a team effort with other organizations and agencies in the area.
According to the task force, it's possible between five and 10 women get actively advertised for commercial sex on any given night in Billings.
"A pimp might advertise and say, I have a girl, Candy, who will be here and Billings on this night and then she'll be in Bozeman and then she'll be in Missoula," said Stephanie Baucus, task force co-chair.
Baucus is an attorney and helped found the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force in 2016.
She says it's difficult to find statistics on human trafficking and recent numbers showed Montana fourth worst in the nation per capita.
But she adds that it's possible the numbers may be improving with efforts such as the Billings City Council passing an ordinance in 2021 that required a special license for massage businesses that included provisions banning certain types of advertising.
"We wouldn't have half the accomplishments of the task force, were it not for our partner organizations," Baucus said. "And were it not for some amazing leaders who have gotten involved and joined the effort, who care about this cause."
Baucus points to reports that show human trafficking is a $150 billion international criminal industry, and the second largest behind drug trafficking.
Raising awareness is part of the task force's mission.
"The women who are being advertised didn't get into this voluntarily," she said. "Most any person who's a buyer patron who comes away from a date, if you will, you know, will tell you like, of course, she was a willing participant."
She also says the average citizen can help.
"If you see a situation where there's a young woman with a man who seems two to three times her age, she's a young kid and she seems to be waiting for someone, these are all signs," Baucus said. "If your gut tells you that something's wrong, call it in. If a lot of people call in and provide the information that really helps law enforcement."