Sex Trafficking in the Native American Community

Over the past decade, numerous interest groups have made it their life’s work to expose sex trafficking and its permeation across the entire globe. The primary objective of such pundits has always been to shed light on a modern-day existential debacle that still remains ignored by a wider section of society. In reality, sex trafficking has mushroomed into an endemic problem. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are roughly 21 million people across the globe subjected to this form of human trafficking (Aronowitz, 2009, p. 89). It is for this very reason that sex trafficking has been named the most lucrative criminal business, posting proceeds that far exceed those of any legal enterprise. Contrary to popular belief, sex trafficking also has a firm foothold in the United States with Native American women accounting for a majority of the victims. Preliminary studies into this phenomenon have gone to reveal that the disproportionate rates of sex trafficking cases in the Native American community stem from its vulnerability. Higher rates of native women are trafficked per capita, in comparison to their non-native counterparts, a source of concern for many interested parties.  This research paper, therefore, seeks to explore sex trafficking amongst the Native American community with a specific focus on its historical context, major effects, the role of social workers and intervention strategies to curb the vice.

Historical Context

Trafficking amongst Native communities has existed from the first point of contact with explorers in the New World. In fact, journal entries by Cristoforo Colombo (1451-1506) reveal that Europeans frequently engaged in the exploitation of indigenous peoples of the Americas with women and young girls falling victims. It was this behavior that would soon set the tone for the abuse of Native American communities in the centuries that soon followed. Historical attitudes, such as the normalization of eroticized and hyper-sexualized images of Native American women are now commonplace in contemporary society. This form of degradation has largely been blamed for the high number of sex trafficking victims amongst members of this community, with most of them ending up in prostitution rings. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that little empirical data exists on the exact number of Native women that are currently living in bondage in continental America. The reason for this peculiar state of affairs stems from the fact that most victims fail to identify themselves fearing shame while also openly distrusting law enforcement agencies (Brooks & Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, 2012). As a result, members of this particular segment of American society have continued to suffer in silence with no one to turn to. The high demand for fetishized ethnic groups has made the situation even worse with Native women being in danger of abduction at any given point. Indigenous women hence remain vulnerable to this form of exploitation with racism, socio-economic inequality, and inadequate social serving as predisposing factors.

Major Effects of Sex Trafficking in the Native American Communities

The United States has always been at the forefront in terms of exposing cases of sex trafficking around the globe and the adverse impact that it has had on its victims. It is for this reason that January was named the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month, bringing to light the impact of this illegal trade on Native American Communities. Even with the scanty statistics, testimonies from tribal leaders, lobbyists, and independent investigators have gone revealed a grim reality. 41 % of women that have been rescued from sex traffickers in the United States identified as Native Americans (Deer, 2015, p. 67). This is rather surprising, especially considering that Native women represent 10% of the general population. One major effect of this state of affairs is the violent victimization of Native women. Rape has often been used by traffickers as a tool for control and dominance that would ensure sheer obedience. These women are then forced into prostitution for an unspecified period, with the trade soon taking its toll. Secondly, aggressive crimes have heavily impacted the Native American community, with human trafficking being solely to blame. Physical assaults are commonplace in such circumstances, with traffickers often murdering women who make repeated attempts to escape the yoke of bondage. Thirdly victims from far-flung localities such as Minnesota, North and South Dakota are soon inebriated with intoxicants. Traffickers use highly addictive psychotropic substances such as opioids, cocaine, and heroin to control their victims, making them toe the line. This, however, has negative effects on the victims since they soon develop a dependency that may end in an overdose. The fourth major effect of sex trafficking amongst members of this population involves psychological scars left on the victims and their families.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been a hallmark of survivors who often have a hard time shaking off the trauma of what they had to live through. It is hence no wonder that suicide rates are highest amongst this group, since the burden of their psychological wounds often becomes too heavy for them to bear.

Role of Social Workers In Tackling Sex Trafficking

Although sex trafficking in the Native American communities has proved a hard nut to crack, social workers can play an active role in putting an end to this abhorrent trade. This is because they are first in line, when it comes to contact with Native communities across the United States. By acting as a conduit between the Federal Government and the Native Americans, social workers are uniquely positioned to help end the inequalities that have so often made these individuals susceptible to traffickers. Monetary inducements for a better life away from the reservations lead many desperate young girls into the vicious jaws of sex traffickers hell-bent on exploiting them. Social workers have an obligation to petition the Federal Government and all its agencies to make a concerted effort to provide more opportunities for Native communities. Programs encouraging fiscal emancipation are instrumental in making certain that Native American women become self-reliant, significantly reducing the risk of them being trafficked (“Human Trafficking in Native American Communities – ACAMS Today,” n.d.). Moreover, social workers have a responsibility to ensure that an elaborate child welfare service is established in Indian Reservations. This is because most victims of sex trafficking have been through the system at a particular point in their lives. Minimal social support amongst the youth means that they are easily targeted by marauding traffickers who often seek out such opportunities to trap their victims. Additionally, social workers have a responsibility to look out for at-risk children before instituting measures to protect them. These children are usually from poor families, orphaned or with limited education. A history of sexual abuse, truancy and substance abuse also magnifies the risk of sex trafficking, all signs which need to be looked out for by social workers.

Current Intervention Strategies

Human trafficking within the Native American community has received a heightened level of attention from federal and tribal governments.  This has prompted the implementation of legislation that would go a long way in curbing the permeation of this practice. For instance, the Navajo Nation has begun by implementing a set of laws meant to protect vulnerable members of the community. Individuals found culpable of collaborating with traffickers to kidnap these women are treated as criminals and tried before a court of law. The State Department has also made a commitment to ending sex trafficking in the Native American nations by increasing its annual funding to social welfare programs. Social workers working amongst Native peoples are therefore better placed to combating sex trafficking by empowering those at risk.  Raising awareness on the plight of Native Communities has also shed light on the issue and its dire state (Reséndez, 2017). More and more people are now cognizant of this reality and are working hard to ensure that resources are secured to combat this problem. The expansion of the Tribal Access Program has also been used as an intervention strategy. Training is offered as a contingency measure that makes certain all community members are aware of those who might be in mortal danger and steps that can be taken to assist them.


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