Sex Trafficking in Native Communities

January 28, 2023 | by: Cesar J Segura
Sex Trafficking in Native Communities

Last January, we completed a blog series on Human Trafficking within the Native American community. This series focused primarily on historical Native American figures who have been trafficked. To many people outside of the Native American community, they were shocked to learn that popularized stories surrounding Pocahontas and Sacagawea had darker truth. For this blog post, we will focus on the prevalence of sex trafficking in modern Indigenous communities.

First, let’s begin with the basics, what is human trafficking? The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Current estimates depict that 40% of female victims of sex trafficking identify as either American Indian, Alaska Native, or First Nations (Freedom United). Though this number is alarming on its own, considering the AI/AN/FN makes up only 2.6% of the total US population (US Census 2021) this number seems even more surreal. So, with such a high percentage of AN/AI/FN being victimized by sex trafficking, we will discuss a few items that put Indigenous people at such a high risk for sex trafficking.

  • Racial Ambiguity - Indigenous people are often mistaken as other races be it Asian or Hispanic to name a few. Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya who is a Hopi expert on human trafficking states in the Navajo-Hopi Observer “We are associated with fetishes…. We could look like anything.” For this reason, Native people are often seen by traffickers as a way to capitalize and appeal to more sex buyers. Thus, exploiting further Native American’s into trafficking.
  • Jurisdictional Issues – As with many issues faced by the Native American community within the United States, jurisdictional issues have a big impact in human trafficking. In California, Public Law 280 provides the state with jurisdiction over Native American Reservations, however, there is often confusion over who has jurisdiction when a Native person goes missing. Many victims of trafficking do go missing and/or are held away from their families by a trafficker. Blurred lines in jurisdiction allow for traffickers to have less police intervention when either kidnapping or isolating AI/AN/FN.

As with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic (many of whom also identify as human trafficking victims), there are more than two risk factors for Native people to when it comes to human trafficking. However, also like the MMIW epidemic, this blog post would go on for pages if we identified all human trafficking risk factors faced by the AI/AN/FN population. Thus, the importance for legislation and further programs to mitigate the risk factors faced within the community.


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This website was produced by the Cahuilla Consortium under grant award #2019-VO-GX-0010, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.