This past week, citizens across Montana held their breath and prayed for a young girl whose disappearance triggered an Amber Alert.
I am so proud and thankful for our local and national law enforcement’s quick and coordinated efforts. The relief I felt at the news of her recovery brought tears to my eyes. But my elation quickly turned to sorrow as I read comments online by uninformed citizens that wanted to “blame” the young victim and her family for the calculated criminal activities of the men arrested by the FBI.
There is a lesson here, no doubt, that parents need to learn how to track their children’s activities online, and our young people need to be formally educated about the real dangers that linger there. But the blame in this case and thousands just like it falls completely, totally, and irrevocably on the shoulders of the men who manipulated and exploited the vulnerabilities of a 12-year-old girl.
While the investigation in this particular case continues, let me tell you that this is an all too familiar scenario. The fastest growing crime across our nation is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking; quite simply, the sexual exploitation of our young people for profit.
As a member of Soroptimist International, I have been part of a movement to learn more about this crime and ways our communities can mobilize to stop it. Over the past year, a group represented by law enforcement, legal professionals, victim advocates, community health workers and youth advocates have been meeting to address this issue in our area. We call ourselves the Flathead Coalition against Human Trafficking. Our efforts to date have focused on bringing Shared Hope International’s training, “Do You Know Lacy,” to Northwest Montana.
This daylong training is scheduled for April 26 at the Flathead Valley Community College. We invite and encourage law enforcement, social service providers and concerned citizens from across the state, from Billings to Libby, to take advantage of this nationally recognized training opportunity. Registration is open now online at www.doyouknowlacy.com.
Soroptimist International of Kalispell has also purchased the licensing rights to show a documentary about Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking called “Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth,” throughout Montana for the next 12 months. Our first screenings will be Feb. 23 and 24 at Flathead Valley Community College. If you are interested in bringing this movie to your community, email me at SIKalispell@soroptimist.net.
Do your part to learn more and please refrain from blaming the victims of these crimes. It is so damaging to the healing process and distracts from our efforts to fully bring to justice the true perpetrators of these crimes.
Diane Yarus is president of Soroptimist International in Kalispell.