By Joe Sexton
Indian Country is not immune to the crime of human trafficking. In fact, given the history of federal law enforcement negligence and the federal government’s willful oppression of indigenous peoples (see the federal policy of kidnapping Native children and sending them to “boarding schools”), reservations are ripe to attract human trafficking operations. There, pimps are more likely to find potential victims and can operate more freely because law enforcement is hampered by federal mismanagement and frustrating jurisdictional constraints imposed by the federal judiciary and corresponding statutes.
As demonstrated in a September 22 article penned by Kayla Webley and Christa Hillstorm in Marie Claire Magazine, the influx of people and money into North Dakota from the oil boom appears to be the catalyst for a spike in prostitution on the Fort Berthold Reservation and a corresponding rise in human trafficking or sexual slavery. In one case, a pimp recruited girls and boys as young as 12 to sell drugs and sexual acts. This pimp was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.
But diligent and responsive law enforcement action from the federal government, which has jurisdiction for serious crimes like trafficking under the Major Crimes Act, is not the norm in Indian Country. Instead, the ongoing and still-unresolved disappearances and homicides on the Yakama Nation’s Reservation seem to be the norm when it comes to the federal government shirking its trust responsibility under the Major Crimes Act.
The failures evident in the Yakamas story of unsolved homicides and disappearances feeds distrust of federal law enforcement on Indian reservations and encourages criminal activity like the human trafficking at the Fort Berthold Reservation. Fortunately for the people of the Fort Berthold Reservation, they have some strong women leaders who decided not to wait for the federal government and acted to leverage the limited authority they do have in passing “Loren’s Law,” which, according to Webley and Hillstorm, is the first comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in Indian Country.
Only time will tell whether this bold act of self-governance will help the people of Fort Berthold save their children from sexual slavery and drive out the monsters who engage in this horrific trade.
Joe Sexton is Of Counsel with Galanda Broadman, PLLC. Joe’s practice focuses on tribal sovereignty issues, including complex land and environmental issues, and economic development matters. He can be reached at (509) 910-8842 and firstname.lastname@example.org.