Native American communities are known for resilience, adaptability, and grace in the face of challenges. A strong sense of family, deep connection to culture and ancestry, and profound religious/spiritual traditions underpin a population that is, in itself, richly diverse across numerous nations. Nonetheless, many people in our Native communities experience deep-seated effects of ancestral trauma, internalized oppression, and normalization of violence.
These factors also create a disproportionately higher risk of human trafficking for Native American women and children.
Putting the Pieces Together
Human trafficking remains an under reported and under researched crime.
Reliable statistics are difficult to find. However, we can piece together a picture of how human trafficking impacts Native communities by relying on:
1) Estimates by reputable organizations;
2) Anecdotal evidence from law enforcement and service providers;
3) Predictive vulnerabilities common in Native American communities; and
4) Research studying Native women who personally experienced human trafficking.[i] Sadly, “the glimpse that emerges from existing data collection is grim.” [ii]
Certain life experiences are key factors that predict vulnerability to human trafficking. Generational trauma manifests in Native communities as alcoholism and substance abuse; domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual assault; poverty; and emergence of mental health conditions, such as depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.[iii] Together with an especially high prevalence of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, these factors are particularly indicative of extremely high vulnerability to human trafficking.[iv]
As illustrated by the following charts[v], Native American women and girls experience high rates of these types of abuse, which increases their vulnerability to being lured into human trafficking.
Compounding the effects of generational trauma with a high rate of substance abuse, mental health struggles, and traumatic life experiences, Native women and children fall into a high risk category for vulnerability to these common tactics of traffickers.
Native American Women Impacted by Human Trafficking
Garden of Truth studied Native women in the Minneapolis area who suffered under commercial sexual exploitation/sex trafficking.[vii] 105 women participated. Their answers reflect the aforementioned predictive vulnerabilities.
What Does Human Trafficking Look Like for Native Americans in Oklahoma?
While hard statistics on human trafficking and Native American in Oklahoma are not yet readily available, The Dragonfly Home staff has personally worked with women from this population who have been victims of this horrific crime in Oklahoma City. We can draw conclusions about Native Americans’ human trafficking vulnerability in Oklahoma City by comparing statistics from other cities with similar demographics.
Researchers in Garden of Truth discovered that Native women were disproportionately arrested for prostitution in the cities they studied. They also found that approximately one-half of the Native women they interviewed actually met the standards as a human trafficking victim under even the most conservative legal definition.[viii]
Oklahoma’s Native American population is 9.1%.[ix] Observing the trends in this study, combined with personal experience providing direct care for women from this population who were victims of human trafficking, it is easy to see why experts say, “the glimpse that emerges from existing data collection is grim” for Native Americans and human trafficking.
However, when members of Native American communities are educated about preventing human trafficking and Native victims receive trauma-informed, culturally competent care, we can dramatically reduce – and eventually eliminate – the impact of human trafficking.
[i] Armitage, Lynn. Human Trafficking Will Become One of the Top Three Crimes Against Native Women, Indian Country Today Media Network. July 15, 2015.
[ii] See International Labour Organization, the U.S State Department, the U.S. Department of Justice, and non-profit organizations such as Polaris Project, International Justice Mission, and Shared Hope International.
[iii] The Facts on Violence against American Indian/Alaskan Native Women, Futures without Violence.
[iv] Pierce, Alexandra and Suzanne Koepplinger. New Language, Old Problem: Sex Trafficking of American Indian Women and Children, National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. October 2011; Gone, J., & Alcantara, C. Identifying effective mental health interventions for American Indians and Alaska Natives: A review of the literature, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2007. 13, 356-363; Kessler, R.C., et al. Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1995. 1048-1060.
[v] Clawson, Heather et al. Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims: Final Report, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Dec 15, 2009.
[vi] Center for Disease Control. Adverse Health Conditions and Health Risk Behaviors Associated with Intimate Partner Violence, United States, 2005, MMWR. Feb 8, 2008. 113-117; Department of Justice. Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is known. 2008.
[vii] Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition. 2011.
[viii] Id, at 33.