Tester Begins Hearings on Sex Trafficking in Indian Country

Courtesy Sen. Jon Tester/FlickrAbout 100 people gathered for a listening session with Sen. Jon Tester on August 28 to discuss the increased trafficking of mostly young girls and women in Indian country.
Courtesy Sen. Jon Tester/Flickr
About 100 people gathered for a listening session with Sen. Jon Tester on August 28 to discuss the increased trafficking of mostly young girls and women in Indian country.


Suzette Brewer, 9/3/14, Indian Country Today


As the trafficking of Native women and girls becomes more prevalent in an expanding radius around the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, politicians and indigenous leaders are seeking to protect these young victims—and help the survivors heal.

“Human trafficking is a serious issue afflicting our region and much of Indian country. Tribes from Washington State to New York have felt its terrible impact,” said Montana Senator Jon Tester during opening remarks at a listening session he held at Ft. Peck Community College on August 28. “Montana and North Dakota have been especially hard-hit by increases in crime, including human trafficking, due to the explosive influx of people and resources following the oil and gas boom in the Bakken.”

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The listening session was aimed at gathering more information from tribal leaders and local law enforcement regarding the spike in sex trafficking of underage girls, as well as other related crimes that have increased since the oil boom began in the Bakken region. Also among the panelists at Thursday’s session was United States Attorney Mike Cotter, who appeared at the event to voice the growing alarm shared by he and his colleagues in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming, about the exploding industry of human trafficking involving mostly Native girls aged 12 to 14 who are being sold for sex.

“If you look around the rural regions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, you would not expect to find 12-14 year old girls sold for sex on the Internet, or lured by an adult for sex or forced into a life of servitude by predators to sell their bodies to strangers,” Cotter told the audience of about 100 tribal leaders, community members and law enforcement. “It is hard to imagine but it is here in our region, and this corruption occurs with too much frequency and is more prevalent than one would imagine.”

Cotter underscored the fact that human trafficking is a global, national and regional problem that has snared millions of men, women and children into being trafficked for labor and commercial sex. Situated on the energy-rich Williston Basin, the Bakken Oil Patch is located in North Dakota. Since the energy boom in that state began, crime rates in the multi-state region have also spiked, including sexual violence, domestic violence, multiple murders and an increase in the use of meth and other drugs.

“We’re dealing with drug cartels, we’re dealing with people who don’t come to the door with a shotgun, they come to the door with a sub-machine gun,” said Tester. “And it’s very different. A lot of law enforcement agencies have seen a real uptick in crime, but haven’t seen an uptick in police officers or staffing or training.”

Typically, traffickers target mostly young girls who average between 12 and 14 years in age and are usually from low-income homes where one or both parents are absent. Additionally, many of the girls are already victims of child abuse and neglect, and many are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. In South Dakota alone, Tester said, at least half of the sex trafficking victims are Native girls. Many of the girls, he said, are lured during times of vulnerability, when they may be homeless or struggling in other ways.

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Tribal leaders across the region have also begun to feel the burden of the crime rates in their own communities, which are often underfunded, understaffed and ill-equipped to take on Mexican cartels, who they say have infiltrated the region and are well-organized and armed with heavy weaponry, including machine guns, which heretofore have been a rarity in the Northern Plains. The Fort Peck Indian Reservation, for example, is located approximately two and a half hours west of the Bakken region. Still, their tribal chairman said, his community is feeling the downside of the boom.

“Because of our proximity to the Bakken oil field, we are already seeing the negative effects of oil and gas development without any financial benefits,” Chairman Rusty Stafne of the Fort Peck Tribes of Montana, told the audience. “Washington has been quick to promote the exploitation of natural resources, but slow to provide the necessary funding for the increased demand on our services and infrastructure.”

“Adding to the problem is the lack of treatment available to survivors,” said Tester. “The survivors are often children or young adults from impoverished homes with broken family ties. Help for them is rarely available in the Native community—or even within a manageable drive.”

The negative impacts of the rise in crime is also being felt among tribes in South Dakota and Wyoming, both of whom have had an increase in the trafficking of their young girls.

“Energy development is bringing tremendous new opportunities to the region, but with the good comes the bad,” said Tester. “Many of the small towns on reservations and surrounding areas are being inundated with new businesses and more jobs, but also with infrastructure challenges and bad actors attracted to the profits and free-wheeling environment.”

Cotter said the Department of Justice launched the Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative in 2011. In 2012, the Montana U.S. Attorney’s office created the Montana Human Trafficking Task Force to confront the “complex, multi-dimensional crime of human trafficking, which includes sex crimes, violent crimes, immigration crimes, labor exploitation, fraud, money laundering and organized crime.

Among the attendees were Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall, Montana State Director of Indian Affairs Jason Smith, Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford and Annie Daumiller of the Annie Casey Foundation.

“As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I am very aware of the economic and social challenges facing the tribes in the region. And it’s understandable that no tribe is prepared to deal with the rapid changes affecting the Bakken,” said Tester. “Tribal police departments lack the resources to investigate and detain human trafficking offenders, most of whom are non-Native. By no fault of their own, departments are often ill-equipped to root out the players in trafficking rings that can span reservation, state, and national boundaries.”

Tester added that even though the passage of the Violence Against Women Act had allowed tribes more authority to prosecute crimes committed on Indian reservations by non-Indians, “there is so much more to do.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/03/tester-begins-hearings-sex-trafficking-indian-country-156723?page=0%2C1


New support group designed to teach Native girls life skills

Tulalip Family Haven held an open house on April 10, for their new program, Girls Group, that is designed to be a support network for Native girls, ages 14-17. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Tulalip Family Haven held an open house on April 10, for their new program, Girls Group, that is designed to be a support network for Native girls, ages 14-17.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Just for the girls

by Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TULALIP, WA. – Being young is one of the most thrilling times in a person’s life. It is the time frame between major responsibilities and no responsibilities at all, however, the decisions made during this phase can be hazardous to their future. Some decisions can destroy your life while others will define what type of an adult you will be. To help teen Native girls navigate this precarious time, a new group designed just for them through Tulalip Family Haven is providing Native girls the support they need to become the most successful person they can be.


The group, simply referred to as Girls Group, will offer Native girls, 14-17 years old, support in life skills, education, and cultural understanding. The group uses the Canoe Journey, Life’s Journey curriculum guide by June LeMarr and G. Alan Marlatt, which is a comprehensive evidence-based intervention curriculum guide for Native adolescents. The girls will be taught to make choices that promote positive actions while learning to avoid the hazards of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

“This is about intervention, prevention and education to keep girls away from hazardous lifestyles, while increasing their self-esteem and empowering their self-awareness to ensure they become successful adults,” said Yvette McGimpsey the group’s project director.

As part of the Girls Group curriculum, young girls will be introduced to different art mediums and crafting, such as the keepsake jars girls made during the Group's open house. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
As part of the Girls Group curriculum, young girls will be introduced to different art mediums and crafting, such as the keepsake jars girls made during the Group’s open house.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“The idea is to teach young Native women life skills, everything from how to cook and clean to budgeting finances, along with cultural awareness,” explained Sasha Smith the group’s lead youth advocate. “As we do our curriculum, we will be incorporating activities such as crafts and guest speakers from the community and from our elders. We will also be doing other education pieces such as sexual education, and dangers of alcohol and drug use.”

Curriculum will also include nutrition education through the Washington State University Nutrition Program, which uses an interactive approach through trained staff, to teach participants to develop skills and behavioral healthy eating. Community work, such as cleaning up beaches and visiting elders will also be included.

A health and beauty station was available during the Girls Group open house on April 10, where girls received hand massages, aromatherapy, and facial beautification.Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
A health and beauty station was available during the Girls Group open house on April 10, where girls received hand massages, aromatherapy, and facial beautification.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“A simple day in the group would be, we pick them up from school, they will have time devoted to doing homework, then we do an activity such as art and craft making. Then we will all make dinner together and work on a lesson from the curriculum guide,” said McGimpsey.

“And that is the biggest thing, these girls may not have a healthy place to go after school or have homework help or have someone teaching them those critical life skills. This will be a safe place for them,” said Smith. “We will also be exposing them to things they would never get a chance to experience, such as the ballet or an art gallery,” continued Smith.

The group meets every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays and is free to join, and participants can be enrolled in the group until they graduate. A community advisory board, made up of youth advocate volunteers and professionals, will also evaluate the group’s progress monthly for effectiveness.

For more information on the Family Haven Girls Group or how to sign up, please contact lead youth advocate Sasha Smith at 360-716-4404.



Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402; bmontreuil@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov


Tulalip tribal member Mandy Carter volunteered her gardening expertise to teach the girls how to plant their own vegetables and flowers during the Girls Group opening house held on April 10. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Tulalip tribal member Mandy Carter volunteered her gardening expertise to teach the girls how to plant their own vegetables and flowers during the Girls Group opening house held on April 10.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News





Native School Girls Should Not Be for Sale on the Street

By Walter Lamar, Indian Country Today Media Network

As schools across the nation are starting a new academic year, many Native girls wake to thoughts of preparation for time immemorial puberty ceremonies, their first prom and that cute fancy dancer at the annual pow wow. In contrast, the cold, stark reality for a host of other young Native girls is waking in the squalor of a seedy motel room, dank with the smell of stale beer and smoke. Their thoughts focus on the most recent beating and rape, bruises and displaced cartilage, vaginal and anal tears, the intense craving for a drug-induced escape and the powerful desire for someone to care.

As an FBI Agent in 1986 I was assigned to investigate the “Green River Murderer.” In the early 1980s, the violent strangulation deaths of 48 women in the Seattle, Washington area were attributed to a single killer. The murdered women were all alleged to have been involved in the sex trade.

After a period of time with no killings matching the killer’s signature points, I was assigned to look for places in the country where similar killings were occurring. Maybe he was dead, in jail, or killing somewhere else. The surprising results of the canvass were that many areas in the nation were reporting a similar pattern of multiple deaths, just not with such a high death count. Because these women and youths can be disposed of and not missed, people with ill intent view the poor souls engaged in the sex trade as castaways without a footprint. The Green River Murderer was arrested in 2001. When interviewed, he claimed to have killed so many, he could not remember the exact number. Over 70 deaths, a number of whom were Native American, were eventually attributed to his maniacal need to kill. After interviewing more than 50 prostitutes I clearly understood the horrific consequences of human trafficking. Their emotionless, blank stares told the story of their suffering.

Walter Lamar
Walter Lamar


Buying and selling children shouldn’t even be an issue in 21st century America, but it’s a problem that endangers disaffected youth from coast to coast, and particularly girls from Indian country. Thanks to groundbreaking work in Minnesota, not only is a picture emerging of the systematic victimization of women and children in Indian country, but states, tribes, non-profits and private companies across the U.S. and Canada are taking action to turn this problem around. However, many tribal members are still unaware of—or in denial about—the factors that lead to sex trafficking between their reservations and nearby cities or for those living in the cities.

Sexual exploitation often begins in childhood, which is so awful that the community response is often denial: “Oh no, that’s not happening here, we respect our young ones.” Two out of three child prostitutes interviewed for the Minnesota study had weak ties to family, and about half have run away from foster or group care. Children who grow up in abusive environments are far more likely to run away, to join a gang or to be tempted by promises of drugs, money or security.

Predators seek out runaway or homeless children, and about a third of runaways are forced into sex within days of hitting the streets. Once ensnared in this life, it’s hard to leave. Homelessness, addiction, financial and emotional dependence all combine with fear of being arrested tend to make trafficking victims reluctant to report their abusers, although most dream of escape. Prostitutes are regularly threatened and physically abused, both by pimps and by their customers. The level of violence is such that victims of human trafficking are 40 percent more likely to die of violent causes than other groups.

Although the clearest picture of sexual exploitation of Native youth has emerged from Minnesota, other tribes are also struggling to address sex trafficking. Elders in the Bethel region of Alaska are warning villagers about predators in Anchorage who watch for Native girls at popular teen hangouts and recruit them into prostitution and pornography with promises of an easy lifestyle. Pimps even coerce girls to recruit their friends from their villages. In South Dakota police point to the flow of young girls from the reservations to Sioux City. Liberal Portland, Oregon was shocked to discover the city had become a hub for child exploitation, involving many Native girls who had come to the city in search of a better life.

Law enforcement is reacting by engaging in active investigations and widespread sweeps of child trafficking rings. In July, an FBI sting rescued 105 teens forced into sexual slavery and arrested 150 pimps. In August, agents arrested nine men at the Sturgis motorcycle rally who were pimping girls between 12-15 years of age. Because the Internet enables child trafficking and distribution of child pornography, investigators have had to develop some serious technical expertise. The European approach has been to work with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to deter the use of their search engines to find child pornography or other images of exploited children. Working across borders, law enforcement agents continue to improve their tools for tracking child predators.

What happens to the teen and child victims of these crimes? Beds in shelters, health care, and legal assistance are usually enough to address a victim’s immediate needs, but equally critical long term needs include housing assistance, education, counseling and possibly drug and alcohol recovery. Sadly, the resources to help victims of child sex trafficking are lacking. Most cases involving underage prostitution result in no services provided to the victim.

Some states, like Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon, are working to change that by knitting together networks of providers to help these exploited children. Minnesota’s Safe Harbor Initiative increases the opportunities for young people to walk in off the street, a method called “No Wrong Door.” Under new laws in these states, children who have been prostituted cannot be charged with juvenile delinquency and are instead treated as victims of a crime. Child welfare advocates hope that if exploited youth don’t fear criminal prosecution, they will be more likely to report crimes against them.

Meanwhile, finding beds and services for victims identified under the Safe Harbor Initiative has been a challenge. If money were no object, existing networks of service providers could be expanded to accommodate victims of child prostitution. In the real world, reduced federal funding has existing programs on life support.

Concerned adults can raise awareness about what’s happening to our daughters. By writing letters or talking to our tribal governments, we can express support for providing abused and neglected children and teens with services to get them on a healing path, before they turn to the arms of a child trafficker. When endangered children feel like their needs are being heard and addressed, they find the courage and confidence to reject empty promises from pimps, gangs and other predators. If being disassociated from family and having low self-esteem are the symptoms of a girl in trouble, then being cared for by a community may be the ounce of prevention we need.

It is unimaginable to think of those lost spirits who have died under the worst of circumstances and disposed of in some unknown place. Their spirits continue to roam.

A recent Facebook post said, “I’m seeing children who are hungry, lonely and scared, doing their best to take care of each other.” The post went on to say some of our children are witness to things they shouldn’t see and are hurt with nowhere to turn. The post closed with, “We’re failing our most vulnerable.” I say that failure is not permanent, unless we fail to rise up in force to protect our future.

Walter Lamar, Blackfeet/Wichita, is a former FBI special agent, deputy director of BIA law enforcement and is currently president of Lamar Associates. Lamar Associates’ Indian Country Training Division offers culturally appropriate training for Indian country law enforcement and service professionals with both on-site and online courses.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/24/native-girls-should-not-be-sale-151407