C. Who Is Trafficking and How
1. American Indian/Non-Indian
While data is limited, there is significant anecdotal evidence from Minnesota advocates that pimps recruiting Native girls are primarily African-American and Hispanic. This evidence is corroborated by 2007-2008 DOJ national human trafficking statistics finding that 80% of “suspects in confirmed [sex trafficking] incidents were Hispanic or black.” Moreover, DOJ statistics show that in at least 86% of reported cases of rape or sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native victims between 1992 and 2001, the perpetrators were non-Native. Still, as discussed below, American Indian gangs and even family members are increasingly involved in sex trafficking, making it difficult to make any broad generalizations about traffickers' race.
2. Exotic Dancing/Stripping
Native women and girls who earn money by stripping or nude dancing are often subsequently recruited and prostituted by pimps who are given leads by club owners. Strip clubs are found in dramatically high numbers near tribal reservations, where poverty and isolation “create a supply of women vulnerable to recruitment into the sex trade” and bordering hunting terrains bring in large male populations. Club managers in these areas often pass the dancers on to pimps. Advocates in both the United States and Canada report a pattern where Native women and girls are recruited by pimps to travel a “circuit” throughout one state or several states performing exotic dances. The constant movement from place to place causes the women to lose connection with their community, increasing their vulnerability and allowing pimps to easily push them into more dangerous areas of the sex trade. Eventually these Native women and girls are prostituted out of the bars and clubs in the circuit.
Another common mode of entry into sex trafficking for many women, including Native women and girls, is through direct recruitment by pimps and boyfriends. A 2010 Alaska investigation found that Native girls are being recruited at places where teens gather: malls, central bus stops, youth centers, and parties set up for recruitment. They are also being specifically targeted for their vulnerability: a 2008 Alaska investigation intercepted a phone call by a pimp boasting that he was “going to prowl around the Alaska Federation of Natives convention to get some girls.” In addition, Minnesota advocates report that pimps send other Native women and girls to recruit at shelters for runaway and homeless youth. The women and girls are lured in by a pimp or boyfriend with flattery, romantic promises, gifts, shopping trips, alcohol, and drugs. Those suffering from abuse or living on the street are often brought in by simple offers of care and shelter. Eventually, their boyfriend or pimp wants payback and suggests, often with physical violence, that performing sexual acts for money is her best option. Alternatively, a boyfriend will move the girl farther and farther from her family or take all of her money, and then further break her will through physical and verbal abuse. Both processes result in the girl forming a deep attachment to her trafficker, making it “virtually impossible for her to refuse demands that she begin prostituting.” It is also common for landlords to offer prostitution as a solution to women who are unable to pay rent and would otherwise be forced to live on the streets.
The prostitution of Native female gang members by their gangs--both Native and otherwise --is becoming an increasingly common avenue for trafficking Native American women and girls. A 2001 study of the United States, Canada, and Mexico found that “girls in Native gangs were expected to be emotionally supportive of male members, including providing sex on demand.” In a Minnesota study interviewing one hundred current and former gang members, all Native girls interviewed reported being trafficked by the gang for drugs and money.
Native gang activity has increased significantly since these reports were conducted, expanding both on and off-reservation. Non-Native gangs have also increased their presence on reservations where poverty, political instability, and limited tribal authority act as an open invitation to criminal behavior. As gang activity has risen, so have Native girls' reports of being threatened by gangs at school. Several schools in Canada have reported gangs coming onto school property to recruit Aboriginal girls. A 2001 Winnipeg, Manitoba study found that 70-80% of the female street youth in the area were affiliated with a gang and over 90% of gang members were Aboriginal.
Most disturbingly, Native women and girls are frequently trafficked by their friends and family, who have been involved in prostitution themselves. Alaska officials explain that “the sex ring grows as girls recruit friends from the villages, promising them a free place to stay, shopping trips, and free meals at their ‘boyfriend's' house.” A study of 150 commercially sexually exploited Canadian aboriginal youth found that most had friends near their age who had told them about the “easy money” they could make in the sex trade. The MIWRC study found that other than recruitment by friends, the most common traffickers of young Native females are mothers, aunts, and uncles. Family members often introduce related children into sex work as a form of survival--a way to get basic needs such as food, clothing, or lodging when no other economic opportunities are available. Some family members have been involved in prostitution for several generations or are used by pimps as recruiters.
6. Survival Sex
Finally, poverty is itself one of the main facilitators of Native women and girls' entry into sex trafficking. American Indians experience poverty at the highest rate of any minority in the nation. In Hennepin County, Minnesota, over 40% of American Indian, female-headed households live in poverty. Both in the city and on reservations, severe poverty, homelessness, and lack of economic opportunity are the main reasons Native women enter prostitution: they simply need the money or the shelter, food, or clothing pimps offer in exchange. According to Shattered Hearts author, Alexandra Pierce:
[O]n tribal lands, the trading of sex for a place to live, for a ride, for food, and other basic needs as well as for drugs/alcohol is very, very common. Adult women are often controlled by the person providing those resources, which is itself a form of domestic trafficking that often goes unrecognized.