May 5th is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S), also known as Red Dress Day. This day honors the thousands of murdered or missing indigenous women in the United States and Canada. The high rates of human trafficking among Native American and First Nations women is a shocking statistic that demands urgent action. The Garden of Truth report, funded by Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education, provides crucial information on the stories of Native women working in prostitution, many of whom are survivors of trafficking.
The study interviewed 105 Native American women who had experienced prostitution or trafficking. Shockingly, 79% of the women had been sexually abused as children by an average of four perpetrators. More than two-thirds of the women had family members who had attended boarding schools. 92% were raped, over 200 sex buyers had used 48% of the women during their lifetimes, and 16% had been used by at least 900 sex buyers. Additionally, 84% had been physically assaulted in prostitution, while 72% suffered traumatic brain injuries. 98% of the women were currently or previously homeless.
Most women saw a connection between prostitution and colonization. They explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people. 33% spoke of Native cultural or spiritual practices as essential to their identity. The study also found that racism was an emotionally damaging element in these women’s lives and a source of ongoing stress.
52% of the women had PTSD at the time of the interview, a rate in the range of PTSD among combat veterans. Additionally, 71% had symptoms of dissociation. 80% had used outpatient substance abuse services. Many felt that they would have been helped even more by inpatient treatment. 77% had used homeless shelters, 65% had used domestic violence services, and 33% had used sexual assault services.
The study also revealed that 92% of the women wanted to escape prostitution. Their most frequently stated needs were for individual counseling (75%) and peer support (73%), reflecting an area for their unique experiences as Native women in prostitution to be heard and seen by people who care about them. Two-thirds needed housing and vocational counseling. Many women felt they owed their survival to Native cultural practices. They most wanted access to Native healing approaches integrated with various mainstream services.
The Garden of Truth study underscores the urgent need for action to address human trafficking in Native American communities. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska is also taking action to address the issue of human trafficking in Native American communities.
In 2021, they received a $1,000,000 grant to address the sex trafficking of Native Americans. This project aims to use an Indigenous-led, community-based participatory action research framework to identify recruitment methods, the identification of survivors, and ways community members can prevent trafficking. The project involves Native American adults who have experienced trafficking, professionals, and tribal community members. Additionally, Native American students from institutions across the Northern Great Plains will work as research staff.
The project uses an innovative research approach that involves partnering with Native American communities to identify and prevent trafficking. Findings will help create initiatives and training programs to prevent trafficking and data archiving upon tribal approval. The project will profoundly impact partnering tribal communities across the Northern Great Plains.
The grant is a significant investment in addressing the issue of human trafficking in Native American communities. It underscores the importance of community-led solutions addressing complex issues like trafficking. The project will help to ensure that the voices of Native American survivors and community members are heard and integrated into efforts to prevent trafficking.
The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska’s award is an essential step in the fight against human trafficking in Native American communities. It demonstrates a commitment to protecting vulnerable populations and addressing the root causes of trafficking. The project’s innovative approach and partnership with Native American communities is a model for addressing complex social issues. The research findings and initiatives developed as a result of this project will help to prevent trafficking and protect Native American women, girls, and two-spirit people from exploitation and abuse.
In addition to the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska’s project, many ongoing efforts address the intersection between human trafficking and Missing or Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). The National Center for Victims of Crime’s Talking Circle Episode “Exploring the Intersections Between Human Trafficking and Missing or Murdered Indigenous People” delves into this complex issue.
The possible exposure of both human trafficking and MMIP victims to domestic and sexual violence, adverse childhood experiences, substance use, poverty, and homelessness can leave them vulnerable to exploitation. During the conversation, Lenny Hayes, Carolyn DeFord, Lynette Grey Bull, and Nicole Matthews offer insight and answer questions on the possible intersection between MMIP and human trafficking, provide resources for addressing the MMIP crisis, and share actionable steps for involving the community. It’s important to continue these conversations and work towards comprehensive solutions to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
In conclusion, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women serves as a reminder of the ongoing crisis of human trafficking and exploitation of Native American women. The Garden of Truth report and the research project by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska highlights the urgent need for action to address this issue. We must continue to work towards protecting these populations and ending the exploitation of Native American women, girls, and two-spirit people. By working together and listening to the voices of survivors and community members, we can make a difference in preventing trafficking and protecting the most vulnerable and under-resourced members of our society.