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Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Indian Country

Published: January 15, 2016
January 15, 2016
A black and white image of hands being tied together with rope.

Photo of Administration for Native Americans Commissioner Lillian Sparks RobinsonLillian Sparks RobinsonBy Lillian Sparks Robinson, Commissioner, Administration for Native Americans

Human trafficking is often seen as an international problem; however, it is also a very real and present domestic concern.  In 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)'s hotline received 21,431 calls which identified 5,043 cases of human trafficking occurring in the United States.  The 2015 totals have not come out yet, but by September 30, 2015 the center had received 16,678 calls and identified 4,168 new human trafficking cases.

The President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PTIF) held their annual meeting on January 5, 2016.  During this meeting, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, noted the threat of human trafficking to Native communities by focusing on sex trafficking of American Indians and Alaska Natives, describing the "first citizens" of the United States as some of the most vulnerable.  Many share her concern.

A report by the NHTRC, which studied data from several states and counties, demonstrated that the number of Native females involved in prostitution was disproportionate to the population.  American Indian women represented 24 percent of prostitution arrests in Hennepin County, Minnesota, which is 12 times their representation in the county’s population.  Approximately one-third of the women arrested for prostitution in Anchorage, Alaska were Alaskan Natives although Alaskan Natives make up only 16 percent of the state’s population.

Though Native females are more often involved in sex trafficking, Native males are also at risk.  A few causes for this heightened vulnerability include: historical trauma, lack of tribal jurisdiction, homelessness, hypersexualization by the media, and poverty.  Some of these factors increase the chances of assault on a trafficking victim.

Traffickers often take victims away from their communities removing opportunities for victims to find safety and leave sex trafficking.  Victims do not always have to cross state lines for this to occur, as traffickers may sell them to nearby ship crews or to "man camps" associated with the oil fracking industry.

The Federal Government is working to raise awareness of these issues and end human trafficking.  In 2015, the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) led many efforts to fight human trafficking including the issuing an Information Memorandum to all ANA grantees titled, "Recognizing and Responding to Human Trafficking among American Indian, Alaska Native and Pacific Islander Communities."  This memo serves as a resource to grantees and staff in understanding human trafficking.  It also explains how to identify and respond to victims of human trafficking.

ANA also held a panel on human trafficking at the 39th annual conference of the United National Indian Tribal Youth, Inc. (UNITY).  The panel presented a draft of an anti-human trafficking outreach toolkit for Native Youth.  High school and college students participated by reviewing the draft in small groups.

Additionally, ANA provided funding to the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) through a Social and Economic Development Strategies (SEDS) grant.  The MIWRC's latest projects worked to protect young Native men and women from becoming involved in sex trafficking.  These projects focused on helping youth to set goals and prepare for entering college or a career.  The culture-based services combined risk reduction with youth empowerment.  The organization’s past research on human trafficking has influenced more recent studies.

ANA’s Western Region Training and Technical Assistance Center has also offered insight on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Indian Country.  In October 2015, the center hosted a webinar titled, “Sex Trafficking in Indian Country.”  The guest speaker, Ms. Bonnie Clairmont, has more than 25 years of experience as a counselor and advocate for victims.

The Federal Government is working hard to end human trafficking and the Administration for Native Americans will be actively involved in this continued effort.  Ending human trafficking requires participation by every level of government and by the public.  We encourage everyone to “look beneath the surface” to help stop trafficking in all of our communities. 

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Last Reviewed: January 15, 2016
Archived: November 14, 2017

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