Although many people may believe that this maltreatment ended a hundred years ago, it persists today in the form of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is commonly understood to require movement of the victim—that is, knowingly transporting the victim through coercion, often threatening or using violence. However, most contemporary legal definitions do not require physical movement of the victim, but instead there must only be force, fraud, enticement, or abuse of power.
Native women, especially urban Indian populations, have fallen prey to sex trafficking at disproportionately high rates. One reason for this overrepresentation is that Native women and girls often suffer from risk factors which social scientists have identified as potential identifying links to future prostitution. Alcohol abuse, substance abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and poverty are all factors which potentially lead to prostitution. According to statistics, Native women experience these risk factors at a higher rate than the general population.
There are also community-based factors which lead to the heightened victimization of Native women. Because many perpetrators perceive that laws on reservations are not enforced, many reservations have become hunting grounds for pimps and gangs. The pimps and gangs are able to remove the victim from the reservation and force the victim into prostitution, frequently without any criminal or civil consequences.
At this time, most of the evidence of Native women’s involvement in human trafficking is anecdotal. For example, a study in Minneapolis suggests that 24% of women on probation for prostitution in North Minneapolis are Native women. Native women only comprise 2.2% of the general population of Minneapolis. Further, a study in Alaska showed that 33% of the trafficked and sexually exploited women in Anchorage were Native; however, Native women only compose 8% of Anchorage’s general population. These studies are alarming and suggest that Native women are being trafficked at a much higher rate than the general population.
If a victim advocate or service provider comes into contact with a trafficking a victim, it is of the upmost importance that the advocate does not blame the victim for her situation. Sensitivity and understanding are the charge of the day. Reponses such as “this is a decision you made,” will be devastating to a trafficking victim and will discourage her from seeking further help. Regardless of the advocate’s personal views on prostitution or what types of behavior leads to one becoming a prostitute, the advocate must treat the trafficking victim as a victim of a sex crime.