We have had speakers tell tales of what it's like being trapped in the sex trafficking business — not somewhere else, but right here in Montana.
We've painted the town in red to raise awareness of the growing problem of missing and murdered women, many of whom became part of a dark underworld of crime and prostitution.
We have even seen the FBI shut down several "massage" spas which stand accused of prostitution.
To that growing list of community pushback, add Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signing an anti-trafficking law. This is great news for Montana and women who are vulnerable.
We would also give a shout-out to state Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, who championed the bill. She deserves credit for tenaciously pushing the bill through.
The bill changes many things, including outlawing sexual acts through clothing which had been previously not been prohibited. The bill toughened sentencing for those who trafficking women across state lines for commercial sex. This makes it easier for prosecutors to go after bad actors, and easier for them to face more severe consequences. We hope that helps undercut the profit.
We recognize that what two consenting adults choose to do, so long as it's legal, should be up to them, even if that involves consensual sex. What we're concerned about is not that the state will become the bedroom police, but that a row of massage parlors in any Montana community could become a front for underage prostitution and exploitation.
The law also holds those found guilty of trafficking for enhanced penalties if the person should have known the victim was trafficked, shifting the onus on the operators of some of these "spas" or "parlors."
We have reported and editorialized on missing and murdered indigenous women. And there are legion reasons why the problem exists. But one of the most common ways women disappear and are not found is because they slip into an underground world of sex trafficking and exploitation, and there is virtually no way to escape. This addresses the very silent yet no less real part of the equation.
Of course, the question will be how aggressively individual communities prosecute these crimes. We're guessing that in the case of Billings and other places in Montana where the streets are long and the police resources are few, this may not rise to the top of the priority list. However, the law gives officers another tool to crack down on illegal activity or prosecute those who are engaged in sex trafficking.
This legislation proves once again that it's not enough to be concerned, and the problem is real. Something needed to be done to give law enforcement tools to address the problem. MacDonald and Bullock, along with the rest of the Legislature, did its part.
Now the attention and focus should turn back to the communities like Billings to continue to look for ways to curb trafficking and exploitation right here.