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A group in Bozeman joined an international movement Saturday aimed at raising awareness about human trafficking.

Led by Bozeman natives Rachel Peña and Jennifer Bowen, about 40 people marched silently down Main Street in a single-file line wearing black T-shirts and carrying signs that read, “Abolish slavery with each step.” The march was planned in conjunction with similar events happening around the world, inspired by the A21 campaign.

The nonprofit organization started the March for Freedom six years ago to raise awareness about human trafficking and modern-day slavery. A21 stands for abolishing slavery in the 21st century. According to its website, it aims to educate about human trafficking, rescue victims and provide resources to survivors. It has 14 offices in 12 countries.

Jennifer Bowen said she learned about the issue last year when she read the book “Undaunted” by A21 co-founder, Christine Caine.

“I didn’t know that human slavery existed in modern day, and I couldn’t believe that at 39-years-old, I didn’t have that awareness,” Bowen said.

Bowen was galvanized to start a March for Freedom in Bozeman. Peña heard about the effort and called Bowen, and they began organizing the event together.

Peña said when she heard some of the statistics, like that human trafficking is the second most lucrative criminal industry in the world, she knew she wanted to participate. In 2017, the International Labor Organization estimated that more than 40 million people were living in some form of modern-day slavery.

“For me, when I started doing my own research, it was so eye-opening, and I had to get involved,” Peña said.

The group that gathered in front of the courthouse Saturday and walked down the sidewalk on Main included families and children. Peña and Bowen both spoke before the march began, saying the main goal of the day was to spark awareness.

“People can’t help solve a problem they don’t know exists,” Peña told the small crowd.

Felicia Rising of Belgrade brought her 4-year-old daughter Lola out for the march. She decided to march because human trafficking is an issue that she feels strongly about, and she wants her daughter to be active in the community.

“I brought my daughter to show her what it looks like to show up for the community,” Rising said.

Human trafficking was an issue that Montana’s Legislature tackled last spring. The Montana Department of Justice announced on Oct. 15 that the agency has hired two full-time agents to investigate cases of human trafficking in the state. The Legislature voted to fund the two positions when it passed House Bill 749.

Bowen said she hopes the event will grow next year, although she was excited about the turnout Saturday.

“I literally cried the first two blocks (of the march). I am so happy with our effort,” Bowen said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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