By Vi Waln
Last month, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Proclamation stating “Whether through violence, deceit, or the promises of a better life, some of the most vulnerable populations among us — including migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or disaster, homeless LGBT youth, Alaska Native and American Indian women and girls, and children in poverty — are preyed upon by human traffickers.”
President Obama’s Executive Order designates January 2017 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In addition, February 1st will be observed as National Freedom Day. It’s our right to be free from slavery and human trafficking. The crimes of human trafficking may seem far removed from the Rez. Yet, many of our own people fall victim to human trafficking.
We are all at risk for slavery and human trafficking. Today, there are many pictures circulating on social media of American Indian men, women and children who are missing. It’s likely that many of these people are victims of human trafficking and/or slavery.
We must educate ourselves and our children on what constitutes human trafficking—especially sex trafficking. Our female relatives, as well as our children and teenagers, could be at risk of being exploited by sex predators. Pimp is just another word for predator.
Pimps are sex offenders. They are predators, always watching for people whom they can exploit for profit. We have to work together to protect our men, women and children from these unscrupulous monsters. Some of the most heinous crimes prosecuted in South Dakota have involved human trafficking.
In 2014, then US Attorney Brendan Johnson spoke at a Tribal consultation on the Violence Against Women Act. He talked about women from Rosebud who were exploited for profit by a sex predator. This man took advantage of at risk females by luring them to his apartment where he kept them drunk or stoned. He physically assaulted them. They were forced to have sex with strangers for profit.
He was soon caught and convicted by a federal jury of Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking of a Minor, Sex Trafficking of a Minor by Force, Fraud or Coercion, as well as Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud or Coercion. Some of his victims were only 14 years old. He is now serving 4 life sentences for his crimes, which were all committed in Sioux Falls—a city where many of our Lakota people migrate to in order to find housing and jobs.
In addition, a famous activity in South Dakota where women and children are at risk of being sexually exploited, is at the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. In 2013, nine men who were seeking to have sex with teenagers were prosecuted and convicted of Commercial Sex Trafficking after they were caught by undercover agents.
The details of these crimes are outlined in the 2013 Annual Report published by Johnson. In all, there are fourteen criminal sex trafficking cases highlighted in the 2013 Annual Report. The report also includes other criminal cases from Indian Reservations and can be accessed online.
Our people also travel to oil boom areas, such as the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, to find work. Young people run the risk of being trapped in a man camp as a sex slave. In 2014, Damon Buckley, a Rosebud tribal citizen, did an in-depth interview with Grace Her Many Horses, Rosebud’s former Chief of Police, about the atrocities suffered by young people and children at the hands of workers living in man camps.
In October 2016, Jonathan Cohen, a Sioux Falls physician, was arrested for Soliciting a Minor, Sexual Exploitation of a Minor and Engaging in Prostitution. Law enforcement has dubbed the case one of human trafficking as the Cohen paid for the girl to travel from Georgia. One news headline about this story reads Sioux Falls Doctor Arrested For Human Trafficking of Native American Women.
It’s up to all of us to educate our relatives about the risks of migrating to an area where they may have no access to resources. Human trafficking and slavery are crimes. Please protect yourself from dangerous predators who wouldn’t think twice of selling you for sex.