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The Native American Women's Resource Center provides services to victims of crimes.
Human Trafficking

There are several factors that increase the likelihood an individual will be trafficked into the sex industry, including poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and gang membership. All of these factors are present at disproportionate rates in American Indian communities. But this phenomenon is not just that of an impoverished community. Added to traditional trafficking risk factors is a sordid legacy of sexual violence and relocation that has normalized the sexual exploitation of Native women and girls. On top of that is added generational trauma, which has led to disproportionate rates of substance abuse, domestic violence, and a reluctance to report and intervene in trafficking crimes. Essentially, American Indian women and girls live the perfect storm of vulnerability factors.

As a result, Native American women and girls are being brought into prostitution at alarming rates and are experiencing severe physical and verbal violence at the hands of pimps and Johns. In addition to the physical injuries, Native women overwhelmingly experience prostitution.



Commercial Sex Exploitation of Native American Children

Native American reservations have been plagued for years with high rates of crime, violence and alcohol abuse. In the past few years sexual violence against women has dramatically risen in many Native American Reservations across the country. The Department of Justice reports that Native American women living on reservations are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races and one in three Native American women reported having been raped during her lifetime. As with other violent crimes committed against Native Americans, reservation law enforcement is often unable to prosecute sexual crimes due to federal law.

Laws or Excuses?
The 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe made it illegal for non-Native Americans to be tried under tribal law. In the case of commercial sexual exploitation of children, unless the man raping the girl is Native American, the man will not be prosecuted. This law has left the women and girls who live on reservations unprotected from the hands of sex traffickers. Even for a Native American charged with a crime, the longest jail sentence the tribe can impose is 3 years.

Raped as a Child, Prostituted as an Adult
New reports of sex trafficking rings and commercial sexual exploitation of children are emerging from the reservations almost weekly–and it is easy to see why. With little deterrent, non-Native American pimps are able to recruit young girls living on reservations with promises to lead them out of the cycle of abuse, poverty and alcoholism that is so common on the reservation. In Minnesota, many young girls are trafficked from the reservation onto the boats in Duluth where they are prostituted in international waters. This occurs so often in Minnesota that it is common to hear of multiple generations of women in the same family being forced to work as prostitutes on the same boat.

A three year study of adult female Native American prostitutes in Minnesota found that 79 percent of the interviewees had been a victim of sex trafficking as a child. Fifty-three percent of the interviewees had survived sexual torture and 49 percent had been kidnapped. Many times the children were prostituted by their own families, grandmothers, mothers and fathers who sell the child for sex in order to pay rent, feed their drug habits or get fast cash.

Who is Buying Children for Sex?
If poverty is rampant on Native American reservations, then the question of “who has the money to purchase sex” begs to be answered. Unsurprisingly the answer is white men. In fact, more than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Native American men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.

What’s Being Done to Stop It?
Very little is being done to stop the commercial sexual exploitation of Native American women and children. The Violence Against Women Act was passed earlier this year with a small caveat for tribal jurisdictions. Now the tribal law authorities have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native American men for domestic violence, dating violence and criminal violation of a protection order. However, the VAWA does not provide any new jurisdiction for the tribal authorities if the sexual violence is between two strangers (including sexual assault, sex trafficking and rape). The VAWA does not cover crimes committed outside Indian country; child or elder abuse or crimes committed by persons “lacking sufficient ties” to the tribe. In reality the tribal jurisdiction of the VAWA really only covers domestic abuse by a non-Native American towards a Native American. Until the tribes get jurisdiction to prosecute all men for sexual violence there will continue to be no deterrent for pimps and non Native American men to traffic women and children living on the reservation into prostitution.

The Scope of Human Trafficking In California

There are an estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide at any given time. Astoundingly, this organized criminal enterprise ranks second only to the drug trafficking industry, generating revenues of approximately $32 billion a year.

And while most people associate the term with the smuggling of humans across international borders, the faces of human trafficking are more familiar than you might think. This modern slavery is happening not only on foreign soil but often in our very own zip codes. Would you believe that a staggering 72% of human trafficking victims identified by California’s regional human trafficking task forces are U.S. citizens?

Within the United States, California has become one of the primary transit and destination states for human trafficking victims, with the populous metropolitan regions of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego nabbing three of the 13 spots on the FBI’s report of the highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation. Unfortunately, the same factors that make California an ideal place to live and work—our large economy, commercial influ
ence, and prime geographic location—have also provided a fertile breeding ground for the exploitation of humans.

Given these statistics, it’s likely you’ve encountered a human trafficking victim without knowing it. She might have been the quiet seatmate on your flight home this Christmas, and she might be the foster child in your son’s high school history class. She might even be your favorite masseuse. Human trafficking victims can be difficult to spot because they are often hidden in plain sight, appearing as regular, everyday citizens.

In commemoration of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, CalVCP has released a video PSA highlighting the broad scope of human trafficking. The good news is that combatting this crime can be as simple as being aware of its existence and knowing how to respond to it. Join us this month in helping to give silenced victims a voice and shed light on the prevalence of this dark crime.

If you or someone you know is being forced to engage in any activity and cannot leave—whether it is commercial sex, housework, farm work, construction, factory, retail, or restaurant work, or any other activity—call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or the California Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) at 1-888-KEY-2-FRE(EDOM) or 1-888-539-2373 to access help and services. Victims of slavery and human trafficking are protected under United States and California law.

The hotlines are:
  • Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Toll-free.
  • Operated by nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations.
  • Anonymous and confidential.
  • Accessible in more than 160 languages.
  • Able to provide help, referral to services, training, and general information.

California Victim Compensation Program Logo
The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) provides compensation for victims of violent crime. CalVCP provides eligible victims with reimbursement for many crime-related expenses. CalVCP funding comes from restitution paid by criminal offenders through fines, orders, penalty assessments and federal matching funds.

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