Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Human Trafficking and Native Women - A Research Update

A new report, Human Trafficking & Native Peoples in Oregon: A Human Rights Report (May 2014), makes a significant contribution to understanding, documenting and beginning to address this devastating domestic human rights issue. The report was prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic at Williamette College of Law, under the leadership of Professor Gwynne Skinner.  Kudos to the students and Professor Skinner for taking on this important domestic human rights work. 

Research on trafficking and Native Americans has been sparse until very recently, and continues to be limited. As reported on the website of the Washington State Department of Commerce, “[i]n the U.S., research on sex trafficking of Native women and girls is limited but findings suggest that Native women and girls are over-represented among trafficking victims.”  For example, one study cited in a research round-up compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Native women in Hennipin County, Minnesota, were arrested for prostitution at 12 times their rate in the general population.  In her 2012 student note, A Perfect Storm: The U.S. Anti-trafficking Regime's Failure to Stop the Sex Trafficking of American Indian Women and Girls, 43 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 617 (Spring, 2012), Andrea Johnson identified studies only in Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and South Dakota. Johnson linked the absence of data, as well as the disproportionate impact on Native women, to the long history of public and private sexual exploitation of Native women. As recently as 2011,no U.S.-based research on this topic had been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Activists in Minnesota and Alaska have taken the lead in documenting and publicizing this issue.  In particular, research developed by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition led to the publication of Melissa Farley, et al., The Garden of Truth: Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota (2011). This powerful and disturbing report, based on interviews of 105 Native women involved in prostitution, supported a re-examination and re-envisioning of state public policies to take into account the women’s cultural backgrounds.

As the issue emerges from the shadows, it is garnering more attention in Washington, D.C. as well. For example, in September 2013, Lisa Brunner testified on “The Devastating Impact of Human Trafficking of Native Women on Indian Reservations”  at the Hearing on “Combating Human Trafficking: Federal, State, and Local Perspectives” before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Notably, though Native peoples are present in every state, and there are small reservations in Maine, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, eastern states have lagged behind in documenting the issue of trafficking and Native peoples. Further, even in states where documentation has started, communities are still grappling with what supports might better address the issue. In short, important work remains to be done to protect human rights.

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This blog links to and discusses the state of violence against native women in Canada.

Posted by: Louise Wahler | May 22, 2014 4:01:11 AM

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