Shattered Hearts

Prepared by Alexandra (Sandi) Pierce, Ph.D. for the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Minneapolis MN

© 2009 Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center

The topic of this report is the commercial sexual exploitation of Native American women and girls in Minnesota, including but not limited to sex trafficking. In 2006, the Legislature passed Minnesota Statute section 299A.79 requiring the Commissioner of Public Safety to develop a plan to address current human trafficking and prevent future human trafficking in Minnesota. By 2008, Minneapolis had been identified by the FBI as one of thirteen U.S. cities having a high concentration of criminal activity involving the commercial sexual exploitation of young women.

To develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the complicated issue of trafficking and the needs of trafficking victims, the commissioner created, per Minnesota Statute section 99A.7955, the Gerald D. Vick Human Trafficking Task Force. The task force is to advise the Commissioner on a statewide trafficking assessment and on the commissioner’s plan to address human trafficking and prevent future trafficking in Minnesota. The Task Force would assist the Commissioner of Public Safety and local authorities in two statutory actions:

  • Collect, share, and compile trafficking data among government agencies to assess the nature and extent of trafficking in Minnesota
  • Analyze the collected data to develop a plan to address and prevent human trafficking2

Prepared by Alexandra (Sandi) Pierce, Ph.D. for the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Minneapolis MN

This report is organized to tell a story. For any story, there is always a setting, a context within which the story unfolds. Therefore, Section I briefly describes the historical experiences of Native American women in the U.S. that have made them uniquely vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, and unique in the ways that such exploitation impacts their well-being.

Section II describes the methods and sources used to produce this report, and our definitions for the terms we use to describe the experiences of commercially sexually exploited Native women and girls.

Section III provides information about the prevalence of Native women’s and girls’ involvement in the sex trade in Minnesota, across the U.S. and in Canada.

Section IV describes Native women‟s and girls‟ patterns of entry into commercial sexual exploitation.

Section V is a summary of the risk factors that have been found to facilitate Native women‟s and girls‟ entry into commercial sexual exploitation, and of current data describing the representation of Native women and girls in those facilitating factors in Minnesota.

Section VI provides information about barriers and challenges to helping Native women and girls to escape commercial sexual exploitation.

Section VII contains our conclusions and recommendations.

After a woman disclosed her own experience, MIWRC recognized that other Native women coming to the agency for housing, domestic violence, and sexual assault services might have similar stories. Staff contacted other Native-specific housing and social service agencies in Minnesota to ask what their caseworkers were seeing in terms of sexual exploitation of Native women and girls. Several reported an increasing number of Native women and girls coming in for domestic violence and sexual assault services, later acknowledging that their assailant had trafficked them for prostitution.

Police reports from Duluth showed that Native girls were being lured off reservations, taken onto ships in port, beaten, and gang-raped. Tribal advocates in South Dakota and Minnesota had also begun raising red flags, reporting that Native girls were being trafficked into prostitution, pornography, and strip shows over state lines and internationally to Mexico. In Canada, research studies were consistently finding that Canada‟s indigenous women and girls are hugely over-represented in the sex trade. One report described Canadian Aboriginal and American Indian youth as being at greater risk than any other youth for sexual exploitation and trafficking. Read the report here: Shattered Hearts