BILLINGS - Federal officials warned the public Monday of a continuing crisis, human trafficking, in Montana.
They met to raise awareness about the prevalence of the issue and to have more people tackling the problem.
Human trafficking happens every day in Billings, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI.
So they made a special public presentation about the problem and how they might be able to help.
"It's a horrible crime," said FBI Special Agent Brandon Walter. "Those individuals that are seeking to have commercial sex, those customers, they need to know that they are causing an indelible trauma on women and children in our community. And this is something that they will live with for the rest of their life."
Walter works closely with Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus. They have been investigating more cases recently, but human smuggling and human trafficking are far from new problems.
"I believe that that there's an artificial spike, in that we're just more aware of what's happening," Walter said. "I believe the problem has existed and did exist years ago."
But Walter says the FBI along with state and local law enforcement is making progress.
The Yellowstone County Human Trafficking Task Force has more than 800 members now, according to Walter.
He says it has been helping victims and educating citizens.
"The newness is a lot of our community is aware of it," Walter said.
Walter said awareness has already led to citizens to make calls to the FBI and other agencies. And he says it's important for parents and grandparents to make children stay alert and aware of the presence of these criminals in Billings.
"Know that there are predators in our community," he said. "If they stand on a street corner or if they are at the mall for a long enough period of time, somebody's going to approach them and try and take something from them."
According to Walter, this is a money-making business.
Local traffickers make hundreds of thousands of dollars often from local victims and local customers, which makes this a hard crisis to stop.
"This is a problem that will continue mostly women and female children will be victims in this in this city for weeks and days and months and years to come," Walter said.
And he hopes the community awareness helped save some potential victims.