I was reading the Racialicious blog this weekend when I came across a link to an article that shocked the hell out of me: Trafficking Of Native Women is widespread.
It begins with these words:
Three decades ago, the relatives of an eleven-year-old Native girl in Minnesota forced her to have sex with a man in exchange for alcohol. The story was not front-page news. It was not the subject of a feature-length film with a happy ending. No one intervened. But when she turned eighteen, the police started paying attention. She was arrested and convicted over twenty times for prostitution. Her parents’ addiction became her own, and she entered treatment dozens of times.
At an early age, the girl became one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Native American children and women forced into prostitution in Minnesota, falling under the radar of social services, the community, and the media.
The article summarizes the findings of a Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) report on the widespread trafficking of Native women and girls in Minnesota. Yes, I said girls. In a study of 95 women, MIWRC found that sixty percent of women had entered prostitution or pornography before they turned eighteen. Twenty percent had started before they were thirteen. Thirteen years old!
There are a variety of reasons why Native women and children are being trafficked. Some are specific to the Native population (colonialism, violence against Native populations, forced sterilizations). However, the report drives home that issues that affect all of us can lead to trafficking: homelessness, poverty and alcoholism.
I found this article horribly disturbing because it highlights the trafficking of real people in places like St. Paul and Duluth, MN. St. Paul is 80 miles west of my hometown. Growing up, I would have never, in a million years, believed that anyone within driving distance was a victim of human trafficking. I am sure most of the middle-class, white suburbanites in Ramsey County, MN (where St. Paul is located), think that nothing like this could ever happen in their community. They’re wrong. So are the people in Duluth as well as Superior, Wisconsin. If human trafficking happens in Duluth, it basically happens in Superior, which is 5.7 miles away (according to Google Maps).
The bottom line is that human trafficking can happen anywhere. That’s what I learned by reading this article. If it can happen in places like Duluth, MN, and Superior, WI, it can happen in big and small cities in every state in this country. Human and sex trafficking is not just something that happens in India and Dubai. Apparently, it happens right here, in our own backyards.
Even though I feel woefully unprepared to do anything about human trafficking, the United States government does have some suggestions.
How Do I Identify a Victim of Human Trafficking?
- Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
- Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
- Chronically runs away from home
- Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
- Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
- Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
- Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
- Shows signs of drug addiction
Additional signs that may indicate sex-related trafficking include:
- Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
- Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
- Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older (10+ years)
- Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers
How Do I Report a Suspected Incidence of Human Trafficking?
You can report suspected instances of trafficking or worker exploitation by contacting the FBI field office nearest you at http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm or by contacting the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Office at 1-888-428-7581.
- In cases of immediate emergencies, it is best to call your local police department or emergency access number.
- You can report suspected trafficking crimes or get help by calling the national 24/7 toll-free Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. This center will help you determine if you have encountered a victim of human trafficking; identify local resources available in your community to help victims; and coordinate with local social service providers to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of rehabilitation and restoring their lives. When appropriate, the Resource Center makes referrals to local organizations that assist victims with counseling, case management, legal advice, and other appropriate services, as well as to law enforcement agencies that help trapped victims reach safety.
- For sexually exploited or abused minors call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST to be connected with the most appropriate assistance in your area, or you can report incidents at http://www.cybertipline.org.
Despite these well-meaning helpful hints, I am overwhelmed by the idea that women and children are trafficked in communities much like my own, if not my own. I am not sure what all this means but please start to think about these issues. Be aware that this can happen in your town, because anywhere there is poverty and desperation, anywhere someone is willing to pay for sex, vulnerable persons are probably being trafficked. That’s my assumption, anyways. Prove me wrong. I dare ya. That’s one dar, I’d like to lose.
I lost a little bit of my innocence by reading this article. I wish I could get it back, but now that it’s gone, I am going to try to find a way to do some good.
I’m just not sure how.