The Montana Department of Justice has entered into a unique partnership to fight human trafficking in the state. The Sentinel Project brings together Montana law enforcement, The Montana Beer and Wine Distributors (MBWDWA) and The LifeGuard Group.

In the announcement this week, Attorney General Austiin Knudsen said that beer and wine employees, including drivers, store managers and salespeople have viewed a video which includes real-life stories of Montana trafficking as part of their training. Knudsen said, "MBWDA's drivers, merchandisers and salespeople are boots on the ground in our communities, day in and day out. Their efforts to identify and report signs of human trafficking will aid law enforcement tremendously in this fight."

Knudsen sees the value of the MBWBA, whose distributors visit over three thousand bars, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, package stores and grocery stores. If the Association members see suspicious activity, they will have contact information to alert both authorities and the Montana human trafficking hotline 1-833-406-STOP. Knudson urged the public to use that hotline number, too.

Lowell Hochhalter, founder and executive director of the LifeGuard Group said, "We are excited for this partnership with MBWDA and Montana Attorney General's Office. Building this collaborative effort coupled with the Montana Human Trafficking Hotline puts Montana at the forefront of the fight." The group helped put the training video together and has been providing services to trafficking victims.

The Department of Justice reported at least 41 human trafficking cases last year, which is over 400 percent more than in 2015, when there were seven cases. Officials also report that Native American women and girls are more susceptible to trafficking than others. The U.S. Justice Department said that they account for about 35% of human sex trafficking victims in Montana.

Doug Overman, Kalispell Police Chief and president of the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police said, "We must remember the victims are daughters, sisters, brothers and sons being victimized - it is incumbent on all of us to stop it."

The MBWDA has more information about The Sentinel Project. Attorney General Knudsen said they are also hoping to bring in other government agencies and businesses to the coordinated effort.

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