• Brooke Ruhl

Target Rich Environment: Native American Communities & Human Trafficking

Everyone is at risk for human trafficking. Women, men, and children of all races and backgrounds can be and have been victimized. But in the United States, some factors increase the risk of being targeted by human traffickers. Homelessness, increased use of welfare systems such as foster care, alcohol and drug abuse, and lower income or social status, are some of the major factors that increase risk. But what happens when these factors are mixed with lack of prevalent law enforcement and a past of historical and cultural trauma?

Photo by Donald Giannatti

Often, Native American reservations check all the traditional boxes for increased risk to modern slavery. These factors alone increase Native American’s vulnerability to human trafficking. But in addition to the traditional factors of risk, Native American reservations pose their own unique challenges.

Tribal communities have a unique history. Enslavement, exploitation, sexual violence and relocation have been indicative of treatment towards Native Americans for centuries of American history. The acts of human trafficking share more similarities than differences when compared to the historical treatment of Native Americans. This history is one major factor that increases human trafficking vulnerability and risk for human trafficking.

Native American reservations across the United States are a melting pot for traditional high risk factors when it comes to human trafficking. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for reservations to struggle with lower income challenges such as poverty and homelessness. These two factors alone can cause desperation in many Native Americans, especially women, leading them to higher risk paths.

Welfare systems, such as foster care, are utilized more in situations like these, leaving adolescents with lack of supervision and increasing their dependency on strangers and outside elements. Native Americans are also victims of increased drug and alcohol use, and this doesn’t exclude women. American Addiction Center reports that in the last year alone, Native Americans are 54% more likely to be addicted to alcohol or drugs than the average American.

Additionally to the traditional risk factors, reservations struggle with an advanced issue for combating human trafficking. Law enforcement on reservations adds another layer to the issue. Tribal police are spread thin and are often ill equipped to handle the complex issue of human trafficking. Reservation law enforcement units are often understaffed as it is. They also struggle with lack of funding.

These factors feed in to the fact that tribal police are often underprepared and undertrained on combating human trafficking. They struggle with little federal support, financially and emotionally and tribal police is often forgotten about in the education aspect of combatting human trafficking. When in reality, 40% of women that are trafficked in the United States identify as Native American.

This is still an issue today with little expectations of resolution in the future. In response, some groups have arisen to combat it internally. TRUST is a great example. TRUST is Tribes United Against Sex Trafficking, who has taken the issue into their own hands.

What do you think can be done to help support this extremely vulnerable community? Comment or Tweet me!

Tweet me! @Brooke_Ruhl and use the hashtag #BRuhly_Trafficked Trafficked. Brooke Ruhl

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Brooke Ruhl

University of Nevada Reno

2020 by Brooke Ruhl.