Sex Trafficking in Native American Communities
By Sister Teresa Ann Wolf
The elementary teacher welcomed me warmly and said she regretted that she could not attend my presentation on sex trafficking to the Native American parent group.
“It is so much needed, she commented, and no one wants to talk about it.”
She continued, “I’m thankful my parents never trafficked me, but my cousin was sold for sex beginning when he was six years old.”
Native American women and children are extremely vulnerable to being sex trafficked. In South Dakota, sixty-five percent of all trafficking victims are Native American women and children.
Reasons for this include high rates of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse, and high poverty rates. Three of the poorest counties in the nation are reservations in South Dakota.
Julie, whose daughter was murdered by her traffickers and whose body was found in a Kansas City ditch, added other reasons. “We are isolated and the young people want to see what’s out there and then they kind of like fall into the wrong hands.”
One way to prevent traffickers from gaining a foothold in reservations and to keep their young people safe is to get in touch with their native traditions.
For many victims, finding their cultural roots can help with the healing process. They find it helpful to tap into the wisdom of the elders and participate in their sacred dances and pow wows.
Don, a tribal elder, says that young people are looking to fill a void. “You have to bring the younger people to ceremony, show them who they are supposed to be. Younger women have to sit with the grandmothers. And they have to respect their bodies.”
And Terry, another tribal elder, reaffirms that “Women are very important to us; they are the givers of life; they are the backbone of our culture. We need to respect them and value them for who they are.”
Tracy, a Native woman who has been in contact with me over the years, has shared some of the trauma and pain of being abused since childhood. And also the hope and healing.
Recently, she shared that she has been diagnosed with MS and that it is progressing rapidly. “When I fall, my kids feel bad for me and start crying, but I tell them not to cry; I am strong and will be with them for as long as I can to love them and take care of them. Sometimes I cry, but in private; I need to be strong for them.”
“I am a survivor! Since early childhood, when my mother abandoned me, I had to fight to survive. I have survived physical, sexual, verbal and mental abuse. Both of my husbands beat me; one held a loaded gun to my head in front of my children.”
“I survived mental illness and poverty; now I’m surviving MS and my young son’s recurring cancer.”
The DVD Reach To End Sex Trafficking in Native American Communities gives more insights into ways that women and girls may be lured into sex trafficking and why it is so difficult to leave once they are trapped.
This mini-documentary also points to hope and healing, and gives suggestions of how to prevent it, and how to help the victims.
Contact information: Sister Teresa Ann Wolf
Cost: $10.00; no charge for Native Americans and for those who work with Native Americans.