New Report on Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota

November 2, 2011

“I thought prostitution was normal living.”

Last week the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education, an incredible team of Native American women researchers and activists, released a report on prostitution and trafficking of Native American women in Minnesota.

Garden of Truth is the first study detailing the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in Minnesota. The research team interviewed 105 women to assess the life circumstances that led them to prostitution.  The study found about half of the women met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking which involves third-party control over the prostituting person by pimps or traffickers.

Chronic poverty, rape, homelessness, childhood abuse, and racism – elements of the trafficking of women – were clear themes in respondents’ answers.  Among the report’s findings:

  • 62% saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, and explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people.
  • One woman stated, “When a man looks at a prostitute and a Native woman, he looks at them the same: ‘dirty’.”
  • 52% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of interview, a rate that is in the range of PTSD among combat veterans. Moreover, 71% presented symptoms of dissociation.
  • 92% wanted to escape prostitution.

The finding presented in Garden of Truth are parallel to, and further highlight the complex and horrifying epidemic of rape and sexual violence against Native women, as documented by the 2007 Amnesty International USA report, Maze of Injustice. Maze highlighted the shocking disparities that Native women face in public safety, health and justice services – exposing the statistics that one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime; that Native American and Alaska Native women facing rates of rape or sexual violence at 2.5 times more liked than women in the USA in general; and that nearly 86% of rapes and sexual violence are perpetrated by non-Native men.

Recently, after years of tireless work by tribal governments and leaders, Native women’s advocates, and due in part to the national attention that Maze of Injustice brought to the issue, Congress passed the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 (TLOA). The TLOA is a small but historic step in the right direction – it begins to tackle the public safety and justice issues in Indian Country and provides beginning steps to empowering tribal governments to deal with violent crime in their own communities.

But as we know all too well, much more remains to be done in order to ensure that rape and sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women is brought to an end. To see how you can stay connected and take action, visit our women’s human rights page.