Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shattered Hearts: Sexual Trafficking of American Indian Women and Girls in Minnesota

Shattered Hearts: Sexual Trafficking of American Indian Women and Girls in Minnesota


After a client disclosed her own experience, Minnesota American Indian Women's Resource Center recognized that other Native women coming to the agency for housing, domestic violence, and sexual assault service might have similar stories. Staff contacted other Native-specific housing and social service agencies in Minnesota to ask what their caseworkers wereseeing in terms of sexual exploitation of Native women and girls. Several reported an increasing number of Native women and girls coming in for domestic violence and sexual assault services, later acknowledging that their assailant had trafficked them for prostitution.

Police reports from Duluth showed that Native girls were being lured off reservations, taken onto ships in port, beaten, and gang-raped. Tribal advocates in South Dakota and Minnesota had also begun raising red flags, reporting that Native girls were being trafficked into prostitution, pornography, and strip shows over state lines and internationally to Mexico. In Canada, research studies were consistently finding that Canada‟s indigenous women and girls are hugely over-represented in the sex trade. One report described Canadian Aboriginal and American Indian youth as being at greater risk than any other youth for sexual exploitation and trafficking.

In September 2008, the Advocates for Human Rights released its sex trafficking needs assessment report, commissioned by the Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force pursuant to its mandate from the Commissioner of Public Safety. The needs assessment evaluated government response to sex trafficking in Minnesota, identified facilities and services currently available to sex trafficking victims, assessed the effectiveness of those services, and made recommendations for improvement.  In that report, the Advocates for Human Rights noted the significant lack of information about American Indian trafficking victims and the relative absence of services to not only help them find safety, but to also heal from having been prostituted.

Despite Minnesota's significant efforts to identify sex trafficking victims and meet their needs, to our knowledge there had never been any sort of summary report produced in either Minnesota or the U.S. regarding the commercial sexual exploitation of this nation‟s indigenous girls and women. MIWRC approached the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to request support to develop a report which would aggregate what is known to date about the commercial sexual exploitation of American Indian women and girls in Minnesota, and to develop a set of recommendations for addressing gaps in knowledge and addressing the needs of victims. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation agreed to support the project, which began in November 2008 and resulted in this report.

Organization of the Report

This report is organized to tell a story. For any story, there is always a setting, a context within which the story unfolds. Therefore,

Section I briefly describes the historical experiences of American Indian women in the U.S. that have made them uniquely vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, and unique in the ways that such exploitation impacts their well-being.

Section II describes the methods and sources used to produce this report, and our definitions for the terms we use to describe the experiences of commercially sexually exploited Native women and girls.

Section III provides information about the prevalence of Native women‟s and girls‟ involvement in the sex trade in Minnesota, across the U.S. and in Canada.

Section IV describes Native women‟s and girls‟ patterns of entry into commercial sexual exploitation.

Section V is a summary of the risk factors that have been found to facilitate Native women‟s and girls‟ entry into commercial sexual exploitation, and of current data describing the representation of Native women and girls in those facilitating factors in Minnesota.

Section VI provides information about barriers and challenges to helping Native women and girls to escape commercial sexual exploitation.

Section VII contains our conclusions and recommendations.