Trafficking Among Native Populations–An Unspoken Demographic

By Andrea Timbone

An estimated 40%–nearly half–of sex trafficking victims in the United States have identified themselves as American Indian, Alaska Native, or First Nations according to the National Congress of American Indians. The actual number of Native Americans in sex trafficking could be higher still since the individuals who are yet to be freed are not included in this startling 2015 statistic. Why are young native women and children being trafficked at alarmingly disproportionate rates? Well, there are a few answers to that.

  1. A variety of factors make any individual more at risk of being a victim of human trafficking, including a history of prior sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, and substance abuse, all of which disproportionately effect indigenous populations.

  2. Women of the First Nations are less protected by the law, given how native peoples were not legally allowed to prosecute certain white, non-native people until 2013 with the passing of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

  3. Women are not only victims of sex trafficking, but of racism and bigotry. Native women are targeted for their “exotic allure,” says Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya, a Hopi expert on human trafficking in Indian country.  Imus-Nhsonhova continues,

    “Why seek Natives? We’re associated with fetishes, such as long hair, exotic looks that sex patrons perceive as Asian or Hispanic. We could look like anything.”

Public outcry can help spur research of this topic, of which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has recognized there is a severe lack. The data surrounding sex trafficking among indigenous peoples is limited and outdated. However, the cries for justice among these populations have begun to reverberate in the ears of prominent people in society. For instance, in 2014 then-President Obama was the first to publicly acknowledge on the political stage that Native Americans are “more at risk for human trafficking.” This remark reflects the gradual increase in attention, funding, and resources being allocated towards First Nations to support their fight against human trafficking.

Even more recently, the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report outlined what advancements have been made alongside Indian Nations in combating trafficking among Native Americans. The United States Health and Human Services Department partnered with American Indian/Alaskan Natives to create a crisis hotline for sex trafficking victims. The DOJ has allocated additional funds for victim services as well as training among tribal law enforcement.

I was shocked as I researched this topic, especially since the public outcry against this aspect of human trafficking was relatively minimal. But who can speak against a problem that is unknown? This is why every voice counts in raising awareness in the community about human trafficking and the people it effects. People hear. Researchers, lobbyists, and politicians hear. More information can be gathered, more can be done. Thank you for reading this and becoming a more capable advocate for sex trafficking victims. If you would like to continue this journey of awareness and action, subscribing to our newsletter is a great place to start!