Serving American Indian Victims of Sex Trafficking
Suzanne Koepplinger, Alexandra Pierce  -  2010/1/27
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
What research/data is available regarding the prevalence of sex trafficking victims who are American Indian?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Beyond the screening that MIWRC is doing, there has been no American Indian-specific research that we are aware of, or data describing American Indian trafficking victims, in the U.S. The reasons may be largely due to logistics. Establishing prevalence would require attempting to interview either all of the American Indian women in a given geographic area, or a interviewing a random representative sample of all Native women in that area--which is a major challenge for any research in Native communities. This is also a very sensitive subject and victims are a very vulnerable population, which makes it even more difficult to identify them for research purposes. A third factor is that so little funding is set aside for serving domestic trafficking victims (only 3 agencies nationwide) that very few Native victims are ever identified. Actually, researchers have been unable to establish good estimates for the number of prostituted women and youth, period, because the data that exist are so very limited. That is why MIWRC decided to begin screening women entering its programs--we can at least estimate prevalence within our service population.
 
 
What are the recruitment methods used to exploit American Indian victims in to sex trafficking? As a health care provider serving AI, what are some health issues that they present? What type of information is available in the event a patient or individual is seeking help in Minnesota?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Native girls are recruited by people within the American Indian community and by people outside the Native community. Within the community, these include boyfriends who are pimps or gang members (both Native and non-Native), gang girls (usually Native) who use guerrilla pimping/recruitment through violence, friends already in prostitution, pimps (male and female) that promise safety to desperate women and girls then call in the debt, finesse pimping. One major point of entry is young girls, often underage, being recruited by pimps to work as dancers in strip clubs. They are promised a high-paying, glamorous career, and then isolated from their support systems by putting them on a circuit where they are moved from strip bar to strip bar. Once isolated, the pimp either emphasizes how much more money they could be making if they trade sex to customers, or he forces them. Either way, girls working the strip bar circuit are very quickly moved into prostitution.
 
 
What recommendations would you give forensic interviewers who will be interviewing American Indian juvenile victims of sex trafficking?
 
1.  cecelia swainst
 there are some guidelines in a brochure entitled The Crime of Human Trafficing: A Law Enforcement Guide to Identification and Investigation I believe you can get copies through IACP at stopviolence@theiacp.org
 
2.  Sandi Pierce
 I'd say be very aware that the child may be very fearful about the social consequences of identifying members of their own community or family as traffickers. We have a powerful collective orientation, and he/she will really need allies and supporters inside his/her community to truly heal from this experience. It's also very important to learn the language of prostitution--the child may use a term that clearly indicates (to an insider) that s(he) has been prostituted, but if you're not familiar with the language, you'll totally miss it. Breaking Free in Minneapolis is a great source for this type of information.
 
 
Do American Indian women have a higher propensity for becoming victims of sexual exploitation? What factors may contribute to their heightened vulnerability?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Absolutely. We really covered this in the report, so I encourage you to click on the link that OVC provided. It's waaay to much to try to cover in this little box :-)
 
 
Is there any data available that compare rates of exploitation among tribal and nontribal populations?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 No--our very small pilot study is all that's been done. But, we hope to do more research in collaboration with tribes and urban agencies that will give us some sense of whether rates are similar or different. I said this in another response, but please remember that this is a highly sensitive subject in Native communities, and even sexual assault victims are often afraid of social consequences if they let anyone know they have been victimized by a community member. So, admitting to having been trafficked by a community member is a very difficult thing for a reservation-residing girl or woman to do. There are more resources in the urban areas, and less stigma in seeking help, so it's likely that it will be simpler to do research in these settings. Also, don't forget that in MN, the four poorest reservations in the state are only a few hours' drive from either Minneapolis or Duluth, so there is a tremendous amount of moving back and forth from reservation to city. Very few of the young adults stay in one place for more than a few years, so it's not as if there is a distinct reservation population and urban population.
 
2.  suzanne
 None that I know of.
 
 
Do you have any recommendations for how we can best partner with tribal law enforcement to provide more thorough resources to victims of exploitation - while not infringing on a tribe’s sovereignty?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 I think the first thing we need to do is raise awareness in a non-blaming way. Tribes (and urban communities, too, actually) are very sensitive to any approach that implies there go those screwed-up Indians again. The first step is to acknowledge the long history of non-Indians sexually exploiting Native women and girls. We wrote a section on that history as introduction to our research, because it is so critical to understanding and addressing what is happening to victims. Letting Native communities lead the discussion is absolutely essential. As I said in my response to one of the other questions, we met with Native community elders and leaders prior to releasing the report, and asked their guidance on delivering very disturbing news to our people. They all supported out work, and offered to help in any way they could. I think we have a way to go before engaging tribal law enforcement--first we need to ask tribal leaders what we can do to help.
 
2.  suzanne
 Great question with difficult answers. Here in Minnesota and in Wisconsin, there is an initiative called ICARE. This was started by our late friend and Red Lake Band member, Minneapolis Police Officer Bill Blake. Bill began organizing a tribal database sharing system to enhance tribal law enforcement potential to track Part One crimes and share info among MN and WI tribes and urban law enforcement. The effort continues and we have all pledged to honor our friend Bill by seeing it through. I can be contacted directly and can put you in touch with the cop now leading that effort. One thing that can be done and we think should be done is widespread training to law enforcement, judicial systems, teachers, medical professionals etc so that people better understand the crime and response protocols.
 
 
How can we best reach these girls before they are potentially lured into this dangerous life? Have any materials been produced, publications, brochures, PSAs, etc. that warn tribal youth about commercial sexual exploitation?
 
1.  suzanne
 MIWRC is partnering with another local organization called the Division of Indian Work to go into local charter schools where there is a large enrollment of Native youth with a healthy sexuality curriulum called My Life My Choice. The girls then have the outreach option to come into MIWRC for intake into a more intensive case management service called Oskinigiikwe (young woman in the Ojibwe langauge). This program has exceeded the capacity by 100 in the first year and we are exploring funding options to expand it. The surprising thing is the number of girls in their early teens who are already exposed to the normalization and prevelence we talk about in our report. We are working with our youth program to create positive YouTube messaging and other proactive/positive responses to the heavy doses of sexually violent/exploitative messages they recieve daily.I believe it is the youth who need to guide us in this and help us understand what will be most effective.
 
 
I wondered if you would give a brief talk about T & U visas, what they are used for, how to obtain them?
 
1.  Lynn
 I don't think anyone said they were not covered by the TVPA, but that there would be no need for a T or U visa unless they were not a US citizen or a non-qualified alien.
 
2.  Margaret
 Isn't it true that persons under 18 ARE covered under TVPA? That is, any person in prostitution who is under 18 is considered a trafficked person?
 
3.  suzanne
 Domestic victims of sex trafficking are not covered under this regulation - under TVPA T and U visas may be used for internationally trafficked victims- however the victims must agree to help in the prosecution of the perpetrator in order to qualify.
 
 
How would these cases be affected by tribal law? If at all.
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 PL 280 means Public Law 280. Not all tribes fall under PL 280 status. I don't have the date in front of me right now, but PL 280 was enacted in the late 50s, I believe. Briefly, it authorized states to unilaterally assume jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters on reservations. So, tribes had law enforcement and social services provided by counties--which most could not afford themselves, so the pressure was significant to accept being a PL 280 tribe. In MN, there were two tribes that held out and rejected PL 280 status--Bois Forte and Red Lake, both Ojibwe reservations. They retained government-to-government relations with the federal (rather than county or state) government.
 
2.  Kacey
 What are PL 280 jurisdictions?
 
3.  suzanne
 This depends on the tribe and whether or not they are governed by PL 280 jurisdictions. The tribal law expert on this topic is Sarah Deer at the William Michell College of Law in St. Paul. In general, sex trafficking prosecutions may be under federal law (TVPA which for adults means you must prove the use of force, fraud or coercion for any victim over the age of 18), or state law which varies state to state. For example, MN recently passed a state statute that essentially says no person can consent to be exploited. We are waiting for the first case to be prosecuted under this new law.
 
 
I wanted to start by asking what challenges you faced while conducting this study, and following the publication of the study?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 I didn't give you every percentage because our major concern is those under 18. If you look at page 11 of the summary report (the link is on OVC's page), you'll see the entire breakdown.
 
2.  Sandi Pierce
 Our initial goal was to gather everything that is known about the sex trafficking of Native women and girls in MN. The biggest challenge right off the bat was that I found zero data, zero prior research on the topic in the U.S. To at least begin filling that gap, I talked with Suzanne about starting to complete screening forms after interviews with incoming clients so we had some data even though it would not be generalizeable to a larger population. She worked with her staff to get the process in place. As a trafficking survivor myself (I got out in the late 70s), I also was aware that the most likely places victims would go for help were emergency services--housing, social services, etc. So, we invited Native advocates to two round table discussions, one in Minneapolis and one in Duluth (MN's port city), where we got a tremendous amount of information. After completing the study and before releasing it to the public, we met to discuss what we learned with 35 Native community leaders and elders. Their response was awe-inspiring--We knew this was happening, but no one talks about it. What can we do to help?
 
3.  suzanne
 I think Sandi can answer this better than I, but from the onset of our project we were faced with a complete lack of existing data on American Indian victims of sex trafficking, and securing funding to conduct the study took some time. We were funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the research. A key challenge we encountered during the study and are still seeing play out is the code of silence that impacts so many Native communities. We respectfully believe it is important for us to acknowledge that this is happening in our communities and that we all have a role in solutions.
 
 
Can you please tell me the average age in this demographic? Are we seeing teens or women older? Thank you!
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Aha--I see the problem. My percent signs did not translate to the web site. It was 63 percent!
 
2.  Rebecca Balog
 I think the initial 33 was supposed to be 63 youth out of 95. 63 of the various ages were underage. Ladies, please correct me if I am wrong.Thanks.Rebecca
 
3.  california_1
 I'm not understanding these numbers as they don't add up.
 
4.  Sandi Pierce
 Of the 33 clients that reported having been prostituted (out of 95 clients screened by MIWRC), 21 entered between the ages of 8 and 12, 21 began between age 13 and 15, 21 were between 16-17. Overall, 63 were under 18, which means by MN law they were victims of domestic sex trafficking.
 
 
In general, what have Tribes' response to this issue? What has been Tribes' involvement in providing support services to these victims?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 We just released the final version of the report in early January, so we have only begin to talk with tribes. The Health & Human Services division of one (Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe in Cloquet) is very concerned about and engaged in addressing this issue, since they have a large urban population in Duluth.
 
 
As far as the recruitment techniques, they seem to be common across the board, whether the victim is American Indian or not. How does the tribal community handle this crime? Am I correct in understanding they have their own seperate laws and accountability techniques for these pimps and traffickers?
 
1.  suzanne
 Again, the tribal laws varies depending on state and whether federal jurisdictions come into play. My understanding is that tribal communities are so overwhelmed with social service, law enforcement and infrastructure challenges that this issue - and it is an emerging one - is just now being discussed at Tribal Council levels. Our goal is not to offer our own solutions to the tribes but to present our findings as a discussion point for them to begin to consider how they can best respond. In addition, our study was limited in scope and we did not have the opportunity to get a complete picture of how this is playing out on reservations. As for techniques, we did not study other communities but can assume these are commonly used and can often be linked to the social disparities many communities face - poverty, lack of adequate housing, widespread gender violence, chemical dependency, etc. are all vulnerability factors.
 
 
Are the victims usually prostituted within the reservations or are they taken outside of the reservations? Are the majority of the "johns" Native American as well?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 At the round table discussions, the advocates said that johns were almost always non-Indians. In Duluth, the advocates said that pimps were most frequently African-American and gang-involved (they named Gangster Disciples out of Chicago as the most prevalent), but some Native families had multiple generations of women in prostitution to the boats in port.
 
2.  suzanne
 Our research showed that some of the victims are indeed being transported from reservations to urban areas or outside the reservation, but that trafficking is also happening within the boundaries of cities and towns. Some reports indicate cross state boundary trafficking to Chicago, Las Vegas, etc. Trafficking does not need to involve transportation, although this is a common belief - it is the commercial sexual exploitation of a juvenile and that covers a runaway or thrownaway youth exchanging sex for shelter as a survival mechanism. We hope to broaden the understanding of the true nature of trafficking with this research.Also we did not study the identity of johns or perpetrators as a group, but our experience at MIWRC is that the typical perpetrator is not Native. This is the demand side of the market -the demand drives the supply.
 
 
I work for an organization who researches and responds to domestic sex trafficking (specificially domestic minor sex trafficking). We provide research on DMST but we haven't looked into American sub-cultures, especially within the Native American community. Could you explain any certain issues/strategies/vulnerabilities that differentiate trafficking within American Indian populations from the general issue of domestic sex trafficking?
 
1.  suzanne
 Historic trauma and unresolved multi-generational grief and loss are dynamics that are particularly difficult to navigate in Native communities without a clear understanding of the historical perspective. As our report indicates, a series of failed government policies, loss of land, culture, language and perhaps most importantly the boarding schools have left many Native families with unresolved grief issues. When we look at social disparities across domains, American Indian communities tend to have higher rates of all indicators, and many experts (along with our own experience in the community and in this work) supports the impact of historic trauma here. Understanding the important role of culture and tradition in healing and as a preventive tool is very important.
 
 
I work for the NJ Dept.Human Services, Division of Addiction Services. What is the role of alcohol and drugs as it factors into this problem?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 It's a circular relationship from what we know so far. The tribal and Duluth advocates told us that girls were being enticed off the reservations by inviting them to parties either on the reservations or in Duluth, where they are provided with free drugs over a period of time, until they are addicted. Then they are pushed to start trading sex for drugs, and then into street prostitution or houses. But, once in the sex trade, use quickly escalates, which isn't surprising given the violence prostituted women commonly encounter. So, most of the adult women are prostituting to feed an addiction--but that doesn't discount the role of trauma and a dependent relationship with a pimp in keeping them in the sex trade when they really want to leave.
 
 
What are the resources/services for victims of sex trafficking? Are the resources/services culturally sensitive?
 
1.  suzanne
 Right now there are, to our knowledge, very few resources for victims of domestic sex trafficking, and even fewer that are culturally specific for Native victims. MIWRC offers victim services and there are a handful of other Native specific service providers in Minnesota that are great resources, but the lack of federal funding to meet the specific needs of domestically trafficked victims is a huge barrier. The greatest need is for housing for juvenile victims and long term social services that are designed to meet the extensive trauma needs of victims. Providers who are not Native specific but are serving Native women and children can bring cultural considerations including an understanding of historic truama and the role it plays in this issue to better serve their population.
 
 
Is the sex trafficking of American Indians becoming a more recent problem on reservations? Or is the amount of women doing this just increasing.
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Short answer is that I think more of the younger girls are being trafficked than in the past, and Native gangs are more involved in trafficking them--but there is so much back-and-forth traffic from MN cities and reservations that it's hard to say where the problem is growing fastest. The tribal advocates told us that the discussion of sex trafficking of Native women and girls is only beginning on reservations. Please remember that this is a very shame-inducing issue. What most people don't realize is that Native women have been trafficked for hundreds of years, and generational trauma plays a tremendous role in their exploitation. I think the younger girls are being heavily influenced by the media to view involvement in the sex trade as kind of glamorous, a quick smart way to make money--but most of them also have significant abuse histories too. It's a complex issue. If you look at our summary report that's linked on OVC's site, on page 35 there's a graphic model of the influences--its a social ecology model.
 
2.  suzanne
 Again our research was, to our knowledge, the first time anyone has taken a research lens to identifying scope of the problem, so whether or not this is a recent problem we cannot identify with any scientific accuracy. We can assume and did hear repeatedly that this is not a new problem but has been going on for generations. As to whether the amount of women doing this is increasing, I would rephrase that to question whether the numbers of victims are increasing or if we are finally beginning to realize that this is in fact a crime against women and children (and sometimes men)and beginning to hear more about it. I believe it is the latter, that as we reframe the problem to recognize that these women are victims of a federal and state crime and do not need to be ashamed for that (just as we have long told battered women they did not cause it, cannot cure it, cannot control the abuse),more women are coming forward.
 
 
So am I correct in understanding that your study focused primarily on the Urban Native community?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Well, sort of. We collected client data only in Minneapolis, which is clearly an urban population. But, we talked with tribal and urban advocates in Duluth, which is how we gained some understanding of how girls from reservations were engaged for prostitution in the Duluth, Minneapolis, and other Midwest cities. Duluth is a port on the Great Lakes, and is where runaways and thrownaways from the four poorest reservations in the state often go, since they are all in the northern part of the state.
 
 
What are the statisics for Native boys that are victims of sex trafficking?
 
1.  suzanne
 We did not gather that data and to my knowledge it does not exist. We have a section in the report reflecting the voices of our community stating that this is NOT just a problem for women and girls and that future studies and solutions must include male victims and advocates, as well as Two Spirit community voices, and we strongly agree.
 
 
I would like to say thank you for your work. This is an excellent model for future studies and healing which hopefully will open many doors for ending violence and education. In your dialogue with council members and elders did you find an overwheling support for open communication with scholars and advocates as the purpose was to benefit children primarily?
 
1.  suzanne
 I greatly appreciate your kind words. We held a Listening Session with local Native leadership and elders prior to finalizing the report. All in attendance agreed that this information needed to be shared and that as a community we must begin to talk about it and create community led responses. This was an unexpected benefit that has led to a community coalition forming to discuss how parents, teachers, elders and agency workers can begin to work together more effectively.
 
 
It sounds like many of your findings were within the juvenile population of Native American communities. What was your sense of sex trafficking of adult women/men on tribal land?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 Actually, our findings included adult women, too--but at this point, most federal and state attention is on identifying and intervening with minor victims. We found that Native women with children were also very vulnerable to being trafficked, especially by landlords who threatened them with eviction, or who withheld the confirmation of rent paid that they needed to establish eligibility for welfare benefits. On tribal lands, the trading of sex for a place to live, for a ride, for food, and other basic needs as well as for drugs/alcohol is very, very common. Adult women are often controlled by the person providing those resources, which is itself a form of domestic trafficking that often goes unrecognized.
 
2.  suzanne
 Our report shows that upon intake into several MIWRC programs, over 60 of the women who met the definition of having been trafficked were first victimized as children. We do know that there are cases where adult women enter into this life without a pimp and would therefore not meet the technical definition of being a trafficked victim. I would question whether she was in fact a victim of other previous truama, because once we understand the damage and degradation of a life of sexual slavery it is apparent that no one would willingly chose that life if there were other options available. Trafficking of adult women on tribal land was not an area that we studied, but under Minnesota's new law any person who is used in prostitution may be a victim of sex trafficking.
 
 
Are the juveniles involved in the trafficking live in a certain location where others are being prostituted or do they live with their families, with the families knowing?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 In the urban areas, Native juveniles being trafficked by people other than their families live in neighborhoods where prostitution is highly visible. The data collected by MIWRC showed that 47 of all 95 clients screened knew someone currently in prostitution, usually a personal friend or a family member. The younger girls being trafficked by a boyfriend did not seem to have much support at home even though they lived with family.
 
 
Are there any community programs available to the victims of trafficking if they are recovered and returned to the community?
 
1.  laura
 There is a domestic violence shelter in Orange County CA, that provides transitional housing for families of human trafficking. 714-992-1931
 
2.  suzanne
 I do not know of any in Minnesota other than two non Native programs - both excellent resources. One is called Breaking Free and is located in St. Paul, works with women who have been prostituted andor trafficked with long term supportive housing and case management services. The other is the PRIDE program of Family and Chidren Services in Minneapolis which does street outreach and counseling. PRIDE does have one Native outreach worker that we collaborate with. There is an alarming lack of community programs to address long term needs like education, stable supportive housing, mental healthchemical health, reunfication and medical care. As the issue gains more understanding it is my hope that more resources are made available to accurately meet the needs voiced by the victim/survivors.
 
 
Can you provide a list of professionals that provide training on American Indian victims of Sex Trafficking nationwide?
 
1.  suzanne
 I do not have such a list. Here in Minnesota the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition is excellent at providing tribal and coalition trainings, the Sheila Wellstone Institute of St. Paul has regular trainings for trafficked women and advocates. I do know of a number of Native organizations and individuals who are very knowledgeable on this issue. My staff and I provide this training and you can contact me for more information.
 
 
Are there any negative social consequences the recovered victim of trafficking faces when she is returned to the tribal lands? Is there any data to suggest that recovered victims who suffer some type of social stigma return to being sexually exploited?
 
1.  Sandi Pierce
 I don't know of any recovered victims yet that are currently talking openly with their own communities about being a survivor--but I do expect that as our report findings begin conversations in tribal communities, survivors will step forward to tell their stories. Actually, that something I've only recently begun to do myself because there is now a public conversation of support for victims that did not exist 10 years ago. Many of us have worked in the fields of chemical dependency, domestic violence, and sexual assault for years, and when I have presented at Native conferences, women have often talked with me afterwards about also being trafficking victims.
 
2.  suzanne
 Many recovering women have no wish to return to tribal lands. About 50 of Minnesota's Indian population lives in the urban area, and many women were first victimized on reservations. One of the things we hope this report will change is the shame attached to victimization. Those who do wish to relocate will in all likelihood face numerous challenges in reintegrating, but we don't know of any data on this.
 
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