Navajo Nation leaders are seeking to amend the tribe’s criminal code to include a law to combat and prevent human trafficking on the reservation.
Delegate Nathanial Brown, who is also a member of the tribe’s Health, Education and Human Services Commission, said that many leaders, including him, were unaware of the scope of the problem.
After attending training presented by Lynette Grey Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota and Northern Arapaho tribes about the high rates of sex trafficking in Indian country, he and his colleagues realized that pimps were preying upon Navajo youth at an alarming rate.
“Unfortunately our youth are rather naïve and may come from abusive homes where their families don’t bother to report them missing,” said Grey Bull, director and founder of Not Our Native Daughters.
Pimps target such vulnerable youth via social media and lure them to larger cities in the region such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles, where they can be marketed as multiple races to prospective customers.
The legislation defines human trafficking as “the illegal recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person, especially from another country, with intent to hold the person captive or exploit the person for labor, services or body parts. Human trafficking offenses include forced prostitution, forced marriages, sweatshop labor, slavery, and harvesting human organs from unwilling donors.”
According to Brown, the Law and Order Committee is currently in the process of reworking the tribe’s sexual assault tribal codes in an effort to make the law stronger and give it more teeth. Human trafficking would be included under the new code.
“We are bringing together our police, tribal prosecutor, Department of Behavioral Health to work together to combat trafficking,” Brown said, adding that currently, tribal police are not trained to identify trafficked persons and may see them as runaways or as missing persons.
Relatives may report people as runaways or simply as missing persons when it may be that they have been trafficked away from the reservation by pimps, according to Brown.
The bill now moves forward to the Navajo Law and Order Committee for consideration, and the Navajo Nation Council, which serves as the final authority.
The Navajo’s efforts coincide with the April 6 release of the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office’s report “Human Trafficking: Action Needed to Identify the Number of Native American Victims Receiving Federally-funded Services.”
According to the report, reliable data about the numbers of Native victims is difficult to determine, since most federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Attorney’s office do not require their agents to record the Native American status of victims.
According to the recommendations section of the GAO report, the Department of Justice should improve data collection and service provisions to Native Americans. Grantees within the Office of Victims Services should also report the number of trafficking victims who are Native American.