Human Trafficking and Slavery are Very Real

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By Vi Waln

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation stating: “Every person deserves to live freely and without the fear of being followed or harassed. Stalking is a violation of our fundamental freedoms, and it insults our most basic values as a Nation. Often perpetrated by those we know — and sometimes by strangers — stalking is a serious offense that occurs too frequently and goes unreported in too many cases.”

President Obama also proclaimed January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. He states “One hundred and fifty years ago, our Nation codified the fundamental truth that slavery is an affront to human dignity. Still, the bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking. This month, we rededicate ourselves to assisting victims of human trafficking and to combating it in all its forms.”

Lakota people living on the homelands are in denial about the prevalence of both stalking and human trafficking. Despite the denial you might have about stalking or human slavery and trafficking, they are very prevalent in our area. Stalking, slavery and trafficking could even be affecting your relatives.

Stalking is not limited to a man following a woman around. Men will stalk men and women will stalk women. This crime is committed blatantly every day here on our homelands. Law enforcement needs to take reports of stalking on our homelands more seriously.

Also, with the growing number of people addicted to various kinds of drugs on our homelands, we will likely see even more instances of human trafficking. Human trafficking is slavery. People are basically kidnapped and then sold to others for sex. There is no discrimination in human trafficking. Men, women, teenagers and children are at risk of being exploited.

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In October 2014, I attended a Department of Justice Consultation on the Violence Against Women Act. Tribal leaders from several tribes were in attendance at this meeting. Brendan Johnson was our US Attorney at that time. He was instrumental in prosecuting several offenders involved in human trafficking. Here is an excerpt of his remarks from that consultation:

“Some of the women who have disappeared have been a part of commercial sex trafficking. Here in South Dakota there have been about 20 different individuals who have received federal life sentences for commercial sex trafficking, there were 3 of them in the last 4 years. We have had close to a 100 victims of commercial sex trafficking here, 40-50% of those victims have been Native American females.”

“Two of those victims were from the Rosebud Reservation. They had just arrived in Sioux Falls and didn’t have a penny in their pocket. The trafficker picked them up on Minnesota Avenue just by the Wendy’s restaurant and during their time there he would give them alcohol and drugs. Then he would bring men over from the meat packing plant to have sex with these women and they would pay him to have sex with them. If they refused he would rape them. This is something we need to work on together, we all have a role to play in stopping the sex trafficking of Native American women.”

Many of our women leave the homelands to find work in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Pierre and other metropolitan areas. Their migration to these places is not without risk. Like Johnson stated, many arrive in these cities broke and without a place to live. They are vulnerable to active pimps, who will stalk them to take advantage of their homelessness, as well as their alcohol or drug additions, to immediately force them into sex slavery.

Our people are the most valuable resource we have. There are so many instances occurring where Lakota people are going missing. Some of them may have been kidnapped and sold as human slaves. Children are missing from countless communities in this country. Unfortunately, many of these missing children, teens and adults are likely being trafficked for profit as human slaves.

Our women and children are sacred. They do not deserve to be stalked or trafficked. I encourage you to help your relatives as much as you can. If they move to the city, be sure to check on their well-being with a phone call or a visit. Contact the authorities if you believe a relative or someone else is being held against their will.

Human trafficking and slavery are very real here in South Dakota. Educate yourself and your family members about stalking, human trafficking and slavery. The continued denial of these crimes has to end.

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