Experts have identified several factors that increase the likelihood an individual will be trafficked into the sex industry, including poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and gang membership. All of these factors are present at disproportionate rates in American Indian communities. But this phenomenon is not just that of an impoverished community. Added to traditional trafficking risk factors is a sordid legacy of sexual violence and relocation that has normalized the sexual exploitation of Native women and girls. On top of that is added generational trauma, which has led to disproportionate rates of substance abuse, violence, and a reluctance to report and intervene in trafficking crimes. Essentially, American Indian women and girls live the perfect storm of vulnerability factors.
As a result, American Indian women and girls are being brought into prostitution at alarming rates and are experiencing severe physical and verbal violence at the hands of pimps and Johns. In addition to the physical injuries, Native women overwhelmingly experience prostitution as a “continuation of the exploitative colonization process.” As Shattered Hearts concludes, “for the vast majority of Native women and girls, the notion that prostitution is a voluntary career choice has no basis in reality.”
This perfect storm has created special challenges in the application of current sex trafficking laws and services to American Indian victims. This Note now turns to a survey of those laws and programs.