By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
I was privileged to participate in a presentation regarding human trafficking a few weeks ago, and the statistics were alarming. Slavery has been an issue throughout the history of mankind. There are references in the Bible to huge populations being indentured or forced into servitude. America and the Cherokee people have history regarding slavery as well.
Whatever you call it, slavery or human trafficking, the practice of kidnapping or stealing people to force them to do things against their will, is growing worldwide. While it is difficult to get the data from Indian Country because most reservations and tribal entities do not record or report this kind of information for public documentation or analysis, other reports indicate that human trafficking is the second largest crime in the United States. It is number one in Europe. Some reports say that it is the fastest growing illegal trade in the world with approximately 20,000 people stolen and placed in bondage in the U.S each year. Worldwide, 2 million people are taken, and over 27 million are currently enslaved. Slavery is a more than $35 billion-dollar industry.
Some studies regarding Indian tribes are shocking and heartbreaking.
Native Americans are victimized by human trafficking at rates higher than that of the general population. Through statistics are few and far between, testimony from experts, activists, and tribal leaders – as well as independent investigations – have revealed a disproportionate impact.
In a study conducted at four sites in the U.S. and Canada, ‘an average of 40 percent of women involved in sex trafficking identified as an (American Indian/Alaska Native) or First Nations,’ yet Native women represent 10 percent or less of the general population in the studied communities.
Lisa Brunner, of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, summarized the problem to Congress in 2013 as such, “Native women experience violent victimization at a higher rate than any other U.S. population. Congressional findings are that Native American and Alaska Native women are raped 34.1 percent, more than one in three, will be raped in their lifetime. Sixty-four (64) percent, more than six in 10, will be physically assaulted. Native women are stalked more than twice the rate of other women. Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average. Non-Indians commit 88 percent of the violent crimes against Native women. Given the above statistical data and the historical roots of violence against Native women, the level of human trafficking given the sparse data collected can only equate to the current epidemic levels we face within our tribal communities and Nations.’ Though sex trafficking is the primary concern of both Tribal Nations and the U.S. Government, it is believed that labor trafficking and exploitation occurs as well, with the victims primarily men. Additionally, there have been a number of allegations of trafficking Native babies for adoption.”
People as a commodity is a practical choice for criminals who deal in illegal goods. Drugs are consumable and may only be sold one time, but humans are re-saleable, making them a more attractive product to the criminally inclined. People are commonly sold into slavery for sexual exploitation or exploitation for forced labor.
Human trafficking is hard to track and address because of the isolation and shame that a person feels because of being a slave to someone. Families are humiliated and sometimes threatened them so that they do not turn in or report a human trafficker. They control the victim’s finances and take away their identity.
According to the website, www.traidladderofhope.org, “North Carolina ranks in the top five for human trafficking with Charlotte being the number one city in NC. North Carolina has seen a 260 percent increase in the number of human trafficking victims and more than half are adults with 38 percent forced into prostitution.”
In North Carolina, the legal definition of human trafficking is “when a person knowingly recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains by any means another person with the intent that the other person is held in involuntary servitude or sexual servitude.” (NCGS SS 14-43.11)
No one is immune from the tragedy of this crime. Men, women, and children are targeted by predators. The predator may be anyone. They come from all walks of life and may even be a family member of someone in a family’s own home. They may tell a victim it is not really slavery and may even try to convince the victim that it is their fault, that he is not good enough for anything else. In all cases and all ways, life is too precious and too valuable to let anyone tell a person that he deserves to be a slave.
We, as a community, need to be more aware of those in our community and those we have contact with in our daily lives that may be victims of human trafficking. Some of the warning signs are looking malnourished, poor personal hygiene, bruises or untreated sickness, no identification, and appearing especially nervous.
Enacted in 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act provided a comprehensive law, making human trafficking a Federal crime. It also provides for rehabilitation, and protection for victims. Penalties for forced labor, trafficking into servitude, involuntary servitude, and debt bondage may be up to 20 years for each offense. Sex trafficking offenses may be sentenced to prison for life.
Because this is such a secretive crime by both the perpetrator and the victim, we rarely see the damage until it a story of arrest or death in the local news media. We all can be a part of reducing or eliminating this crime in our communities. There is a national hotline that has been set up to assist you if you feel that you have encountered someone who is enslaved and it is also a contact point for anyone who is caught up in it and needs a way to escape. The number is 1-888-373-7888. Put that number in your cell phone so that it is easily accessible. You never know when you will be in a situation to help someone out of the bonds of human trafficking.