Sexual Trafficking of Native American Women is Widespread

The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center has recently done a study about the sexual trafficking of Native American women and girls, and the Circle News published an article about it earlier this month* (h/t Racialicious). Some of the descriptions of violence in the article are extremely triggering.

We already know that Native American women and girls are at a hugely disproportionate risk of rape compared to all other racial groups. They are more than 2.5 times as likely to be raped as the general U.S. female population — and considering the general rates of rape in the U.S., that’s truly terrifying. So, it should come as no real surprise to us that sexual violence is also taking the form of women and girls being forced or coerced into prostitution. It should go without saying that, since with force and/or coercion there is no consent, sexual trafficking is rape, and due to its repeated nature, it’s also one of the most heinous kinds.

There are many reasons why this type of sexual violence is committed so prevalently against Native women. They range from those issues faced by virtually all communities, like the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence, to those faced by many marginalized groups, such as widespread poverty, to those specific to Native American communities, like the legacy of colonization and horrific sexual violence committed by white men against Native women both historically and presently.

I have little else to add to the discussion myself, but I do think it’s important to draw greater attention to the issue. This report specifically focuses on Minnesota, but I highly doubt that it is a problem isolated to that state alone. Rather, I imagine that it’s being lived and grappled with in communities across the country.

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*Some readers will find some of the language used in the article to be problematic (I do). But while I understand, recognize, and respect that the conflation of sex work and sex trafficking can be very frustrating and damaging, I think it’s important to focus on the fact that in this instance, we are talking about very marginalized and vulnerable women and girls who are being trafficked, and to center them and their experiences in this particular post’s comments.


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8 Responses to Sexual Trafficking of Native American Women is Widespread

  1. Jadey says:

    It’s immensely problematic in Canada as well. British/French/Canadian colonization differed somewhat in its methods, but the consequences are largely the same.

  2. Part of the issue as I understand it is that no effort is made to understand tribal differences and unique cultural norms within each.

  3. RD says:

    *Some readers will find some of the language used in the article to be problematic (I do). But while I understand, recognize, and respect that the conflation of sex work and sex trafficking can be very frustrating and damaging, I think it’s important to focus on the fact that in this instance, we are talking about very marginalized and vulnerable women and girls who are being trafficked, and to center them and their experiences in this particular post’s comments

    I think you have your priorities straight there Cara. Just my personal opinion.

  4. cf says:

    Part of the problem is that, in Minnesota, in my observation, Native Americans are literally not seen. People cannot be mistreated if they do not exist.

    Two examples: I’m in a diner with some friends, and we order, eat our meal, get our check — and this same Native American guy is sitting one table over, still waiting for his order to be taken. As we’re getting ready to leave, we overhear the waitress tell him, “Sir, you can’t sit here all day…” to which he quietly responded, “well, you’d better take my order then.” The waitress went to get the manager to evict him, who’d already called the police…

    Second example. I’m driving through downtown Minneapolis with a native Minnesotan, who is trying to tell me how much better Minneapolis is than New York (I’m from New York). He claims that “there simply isn’t the kind of racism here that…” We were driving through, at this point, what can only be described as an extremely impoverished Native American ghetto. My passenger says, “Oh they’re just Indians…” oops.

    If they can’t even *see* these people as human beings when they’re waiting to be served in a restaurant or begging in the streets…

  5. FW says:

    Doesn’t sound like anyone here even read the report. It’s crap. No Data. Anti-Sex-worker. But I know, I’m not allowed to complain.

  6. Melusina says:

    FW, you make a very good point- but maybe you should link to your entries about it? I admit to not having read the report myself and seeing your excerpts on it spurred me on to actually do so- but it might be helpful for others to see why it you are (rightfully) angry with it.

  7. Melusina says:

    Although I do think the report is somewhat faulty, as in regards to FW’s points and from what I’ve read so far. A far better resource to look at when examining colonialism and sexual violence in “North America”, I think, would be Andrea Smith’s book “Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide”.

    In regards to sex work and aboriginal women, I find that this quote from Jessica Yee’s article “Supporting Aboriginal Sex Workers’ Struggles” is quite important:

    “Sex work is real work — let’s be clear on that. That is not to say that it is by any means glamourous, advisable, or the first choice of work for many people. The issue of engagement in sex work has a lot to do with making informed choices, and there is a marked difference between sex work and survival sex. Because of the underground nature of the work, we are at much greater risk of being victimized, and the ongoing stigma and shame sex workers face definitely does not help to ensure our safety. Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence than non-Aboriginal women, and the violence that goes on in the streets with sex workers is even higher, and much less reported.”

    I wish I could link the whole article, but the only online version of it that I can find is through this link: http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/36526878/SUPPORTING-ABORIGINAL-SEX-WORKERS-STRUGGLES

  8. LB says:

    *delurk

    The whole report is completely messed up. The story even more so: “Minnesota law does provide some additional legal protection to victims of sex trafficking. While the federal definition of trafficking requires that traffickers use “force, fraud, or coercion,” state laws say that a person can never consent to being sexually exploited. Under state law, anyone who had been prostituted by others is considered a trafficking victim.”

    This is the revealing moment when you realize that all sex work is sexual exploitation.

    So in regards to this “widespread” trafficking problem, this “Shattered Hearts” research project (and there’s a wonderful victim rather than survivor-oriented name for you that speaks volumes) recruited 40 women who came to the MIWRC for social services into this research project and classified them as trafficked regardless of whether they sold sex willingly or not?

    And we’re to take that at face value why again? Because they “are” being trafficked in this case, even though we DON’T know if that’s true – or at least in what numbers, which is the thesis of the report? I’m reasonably new here, but how does sacrificing the integrity of our feminist methodologies and analysis help here again?

    I understand the impulse to help those (in this community or elsewhere) who were raped or trafficked, but this seems to be just another instance of throwing sex workers under the bus in order to do so. The fact that they evacuate all agency and rational, personal decision-making in a case dealing with indigenous women just adds a thick film of racism.

    So perhaps I am doing what the * warned against, but unethical research aimed at stirring up sex panics gets my feminist hackles up. No, no pass for that today. And shielding it from reasoned analysis is exactly what I try to teach my undergrads that feminism should never, ever do… not even a little.

    *re-lurk

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