Respond, rescue, restore, and revive - that is the mission of The LifeGuard Group as they work with victims of human trafficking and launch an easier resource for Montanans to get the help they need.
Today, the group launched a statewide human trafficking hotline - taking some strain off of the national hotline, and giving Montanans a faster response.
“We’re working on providing a timely response for the victims; whereas with the national hotline there can be delays in communication, there can be lost time with just response. So by setting up this hotline here in Montana we’re able to have a quick response time," said Carson Hochhalter the student outreach director for The LifeGuard Group.
While the hotline officially launched at 11:00 AM - Hochhalter says they got their first call yesterday.
“I received a call on the hotline and it was an individual searching for help and she told me that she had been waiting on that national hotline on hold for around 30 minutes before she hung up and decided she was done with it. Through an online search she saw an article our team was quoted in and saw the number in there for the hotline and reached out," said Hochhalter.
He says he didn't feel like he should wait for opening to take the call. So, the team was able to get her the help and resources she needed right away.
“It depends on who you are and how it affects you. It might not seem like that big of a deal, until it’s your kid or your friend. Then it’s a huge deal. In my opinion, if we had one victim in Montana, it’s a huge deal… it’s one too many… But the unfortunate truth is we have a lot more than that one," said Hochhalter.
According to the national human trafficking hotline, Montana reported 38 human trafficking cases with 74 victims, 21 traffickers, and 4 trafficking businesses identified in 2019.
On the national level, over 11,000 cases were reported last year.
“This is not a LifeGuard Group fight; this can not be just the LifeGuard Group. We need everyone, in every place, all over the country to understand, this is a problem, it is happening, and they also need to jump on board to do something," said Rindal.
You can call, text, or click here and chat with someone online.
“Guy Baker with the FBI Task Force here in Missoula, he will say that it’s one of the number one concerns. And it’s happening in Montana because we have an interstate that runs from east to west and they can get from one place to another and it’s quick," said Jamie Rindal with the board of directors and a lifeline project assembly speaker for The LifeGuard Group.
This is a resource for everyone in Montana.
“This isn’t just a victim phone number. This is a phone number for anybody out in the community that see’s something that doesn’t look right or they feel that it’s not right. There’s no wrong call," said Rindal.
Hochhalter says if the call is nothing - that's fine. But if it's something, then you might have saved a life.
“We’ve got a good number (of volunteers) especially for just launching. We are hoping to get up to where we have enough for every volunteer to do maybe one shift a year. That would be fantastic and that would give us the opportunity to expand our shifts as well," said Hochhalter.
While these volunteers help make sure everything runs smoothly, someone will always be there to answer the call.
“One of us at the LifeGuard Group will always be on call. We never want to be in a position where we are going to miss a call or a chat or a text from a victim that is reaching out for help. So, there is never going to be a situation where someone is not getting a response," said Hochhalter.
The LifeGuard Group has partnered with the Eastern Montana Human Trafficking Task Force, Montana Beer and Wine Distributors Association, Gallatin County Human Trafficking Task Force, Yellowstone County Human Trafficking Task Force, Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force, Gianforte Family Foundation, North Central Montana Human Trafficking and MMIP Task Force, and National Beer Wholesalers Association.
“We are proud to partner with the Lifeguard group to ensure the best possible services are offered to those that are victims of human trafficking, or to citizens who may be aware of possible trafficking occurring in their neighborhood. The Lifeguard group has taken the local North Central Montana Human Trafficking & MMIP Task Force hotline and will make it available to the entire State. This partnership will improve our response times and reinforce our mission to put an end to human trafficking in Montana," said Shanna Bulik-Chism, present of the North Central Montana Human Trafficking and MMIP Task Force.
“We could not do anything without the partnership of law enforcement," said Rindal. “This hotline wouldn’t have been able to make it’s first step without the Gianforte Family Foundation. They have partnered with us and been there. They are our number one partnership with this hotline."
The Gianforte Family Foundation helped fund software to implement the crisis referral program and helpline, so that data can be collected, analyzed, and shared statewide, providing more immediate assistance to victims.
"We are proud to support the Life Guard Group in their efforts to help victims, as they work with missing persons and human trafficking task forces across Montana. Human trafficking is a growing problem and attacks the most vulnerable in our communities. Our hope is that many lives will be protected through this initiative," said Catherine Koenen, executive director of the Gianforte Family Foundation.
We reached out to Attorney General Tim Fox to see what his thoughts were in the new hotline.
"Over the last eight years, Montana has taken meaningful steps forward in human trafficking awareness, prevention, and enforcement. The addition of a Montana-based hotline will greatly benefit a collaborative response in critical times. I commend the great work of the Lifeguard Group and the willingness of our citizens to support this worthwhile project," said Fox.