“Along with the continued increase in women, male survivors, and children who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking and many other things, we have also seen high increase in sex trafficking victims.”
Maria Guerra, Na’ini Family and Social Services Director, Kenaitze Indian Tribe
(OVW 16th Annual Government to Government Tribal Consultation on Violence Against Native Indian and Alaska Native Women, August 2021)
Traffickers prey on vulnerable people. A 15-year-old boy who flees his foster family home or residential treatment placement. A transgender youth who is forced to leave their home solely due to their identity. A mother who takes the brave step to leave her abuser and becomes homeless, or a survivor who is unable to access justice because her trafficker is a non-Indian and the crime occurred on tribal lands. As Kristina Rose, Director of the Office for Victims of Crime stated, “there is no single profile of a trafficking survivor, their experiences differ.” Those of us who work in the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) know this to be true, which is why it is crucial to listen to survivors and the people who serve them—they know what they need.
In his proclamation recognizing January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, President Biden stated, “Since human trafficking disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, vulnerable migrants, and other historically marginalized and underserved communities, our mission to combat human trafficking must always be connected to our broader efforts to advance equity and justice across our society.” This and every January, OVW reaffirms its dedication to victims and survivors of trafficking, including by sharing resources and spotlighting grantees that provide services for trafficking victims.
American Indian and Alaska Native survivors suffer some of the highest rates of violence in the United States. This is unacceptable. OVW is proud to stand with the StrongHearts Native Helpline, which provides culturally appropriate services to American Indian and Alaska Native survivors and their loved ones. According to StrongHearts, traffickers “often primarily target women and girls who are affected by poverty, the lack of access to education and economic opportunities, chronic unemployment and discrimination, which is known to disproportionately exist in Native communities.”
OVW funds resources to address human trafficking including Comprehensive Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) on Sex Trafficking in Indian Country and Alaska from the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and TTA for attorneys and social service providers from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking. Recognizing the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native survivors of sex trafficking, the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition will host several webinars to train service providers and advocates. These webinars will cover important topics, including increasing awareness on digital sex trafficking and recruitment, tailoring responses to domestic violence and sexual assault, and addressing barriers to safety based on the confusion caused by lack of jurisdiction.
OVW continues to call for changes to the Violence Against Women Act that will allow tribes to hold accountable non-Indian perpetrators for crimes on tribal territories, including sexual violence and sex trafficking. OVW Principal Deputy Director Allison Randall echoed the Department and her support for these survivor-focused, common sense solutions in her testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing entitled, Restoring Justice: Addressing Violence in Native Communities Through VAWA Title IX Special Jurisdiction.
“Department of Justice officials have heard from tribal leaders year after year at our annual violence against Indian women consultations that they cannot prosecute co-occurring crimes such as child abuse and assaults on tribal officials, as well as sexual assault committed by non-Natives. The stories are heartbreaking,” said OVW Principal Deputy Director Randall. “[Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction] has been a success, but many survivors have been left behind and perpetrators not held fully accountable because of its limitations. Congress must act.”
Recently, OVW also announced awards to 11 Indian tribal governments to exercise Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ). These funds may be used for day-to-day costs to support legal counsel for defendants with low incomes and provide services to crime victims. This funding helps tribes implement aspects of SDVCJ, under which Indian Tribal Governments can prosecute non-Indian perpetrators who commit domestic violence on tribal lands.
Respect for tribes’ authority is central to our work at OVW and cuts across many of our grant programs, particularly those administered by our Tribal Affairs Division (TAD). TAD recently launched the website Leveraging Funding Opportunities with TAD to help applicants develop and submit strong proposals for tribal governments and others considering applying to TAD’s grant programs.
OVW is honored and grateful for the opportunity to work in partnership with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders, governments, and organizations to address sex trafficking, domestic and dating violence, and sexual assault. Our work is guided by the principle that we cannot end gender-based violence without respect for Tribal sovereignty and a commitment to address poverty, racism, homelessness, and other social determinants of health that disproportionately impact survivors of color. That means listening to survivors and communities when we develop and carry out initiatives that address these issues.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking, there are many services available to help, including: