Salute the Badge: Missoula chaplain tackles human trafficking - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Salute the Badge: Missoula chaplain tackles human trafficking

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Missoula County Sheriff's Office chaplain Lowell Hochhalter (MTN News photo) Missoula County Sheriff's Office chaplain Lowell Hochhalter (MTN News photo)

He’s the one who is there to hold the hand of someone who has just lost a loved one, and he’s there to support fellow law enforcement officers after a tough day.

But the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department chaplain is also saving lives by infiltrating the underbelly of society, where women, children, and boys fall victim to slavery.

“She was actually found, so she was recovered,” chaplain Lowell Hochhalter said.

He didn’t even want to know about human trafficking - most people don’t. So, he wasn’t pleased when a friend first told Hochhalter about the growing problem of the sex slave industry.

“At first, I was put out, to be honest. I wish I never knew this information. I’ve got three daughters of my own and I felt like now I was put in this position to respond and I didn’t feel like I had the capacity to respond,” Hochhalter said.

But it turns out, Hochhalter did have what it takes to face a dirty secret head on. At first, he toured the nation’s schools, talking about the dangers of life on the streets and how within 48 hours, most runaways are approached by a pimp or trafficker and won’t be able to escape on their own.

“Once you look into the face of a young girl that’s in a place where she does not want to be, you can’t help but see your own kid. It kind of held me,” Hochhalter said.

It happens at big public events, from the Superbowl to Mardi Gras to the local fair or football game, waiting for the traffickers to offer up their victims for sale. Hochhalter and an army of others are there to rescue the vulnerable.

“We have a team that develops and has on-line monitoring. So we know that when a kid goes missing, within the first 48 hours, 75-percent will be approached by a pimp or trafficker and we know they are vulnerable. WE call those our missing kid outreaches. They might not all be trafficking but they are all vulnerable.”

Lowell and his wife Tami run the Missoula branch of FREE International that helps save the victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery. It stands for Find, restore, Embrace, Empower. His career path has led to this mission.

“When the chaplain thing came along, it’s where my two worlds collided. And I was able to not only offer my services to the Sheriff’s Office, the police department and the fire department, but they, in turn, have supposed what we do,” Hochhalter said.

“Some people say you do it because you’re a Christian as some part of a ministry.  It’s not a faith issue, it’s a human issue,” he added.

Lowell says a demographic that’s being targeted more and more, the developmentally disabled who are often easy targets and less likely to be able to escape.

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