Lakota Country Times: Native women vulnerable to sex trafficking

YouTube: Chosen - Trailer / Shared Hope International

Human trafficking is here in South Dakota
By Natalie Hand
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

RAPID CITY—Human trafficking is a real problem in South Dakota and Native American women are some of the most vulnerable.

”South Dakota is a funnel for human trafficking. Interstate I-90 is used as a passage way, not only to get to the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, but also to destinations right here in South Dakota.” stated South Dakota Representative Scott Craig, who served as a panelist at the recent “Human Trafficking Community Awareness Night”, sponsored by the South Dakota West River Human Trafficking Task Force.   

The Elks Theater hosted the event in recognition of January’s National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, designated by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010.    

The event included a special screening of “Chosen”, a new documentary designed to educate young people to the danger signs of sex trafficking.  Viewed by a standing-room-only crowd, the film highlighted the stories of two young, vulnerable women who were easily manipulated into sex trafficking without even realizing what was happening.  

The South Dakota West River Human Trafficking Task Force hosted a panel of speakers in Rapid City, South Dakota, on January 6, 2016. Photo by Natalie Hand

Brent Gromer, of the SD Division of Criminal Investigation’s Internet Sex Crimes against Children Unit, shared details of a recent sting operation.  

“In 2013, we conducted a sting operation during the Sturgis Rally.  We placed ads online, posing as pimps, offering 12 and 13 year old girls to prospective “johns”.  We made nine arrests that week and five of the perps were from the Black Hills area.  It’s not just tourists, some of these criminals are our neighbors.” stated Gromer.  

South Dakota is a mecca for men coming to the State for hunting season, the Sturgis Bike Rally, and other tourist events.  Traffickers routinely use casinos, truck stops, the internet and other venues throughout the year.  There is a looming threat of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline construction and the “Man Camps” that will be temporary housing for pipeline workers.  

According to SDCEDSV Fact Sheet, sex trafficking is an “infestation” in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, which have several “Man Camps”.  There is also great concern of the large increase of registered sex offenders who relocated to the Bakken oil region to work.  

Guest panelist Greg Peterman, Federal U.S. Attorney in Rapid City, stated that his staff is fully dedicated to prosecuting sex crimes, including child pornography and child sexual abuse that occur in the state and on reservations.  

“We have seven federal prosecutors in Rapid City.  We work hard to prosecute these cases.  There’s a lot of trafficking going through to get to North Dakota.  And we have a lot of Native girls and women being victimized as well,” said Peterman.  

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In response to the growing number of cases of native women and girls being targeted in the region, the Oglala Sioux Tribe took the initiative in December, 2015 to amend the Tribe’s Criminal Code to include an ordinance against human trafficking.  

Marilyn Charging Crow, Oglala Sioux Tribal Council Representative from Eagle Nest District on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was on hand for the screening.  

“Even though we are taking that first step with this OST ordinance against human trafficking, we need help from everyone, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety, the tribal courts, witnesses, families, and the communities to work together as a team to make this ordinance strong,” noted Charging Crow.   

Charging Crow added that the growing methamphetamine problem on the reservation is making young females more vulnerable than ever.  

Amanda Takes War Bonnet, public education specialist with Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, said South Dakota’s Indian country is effected by sex trafficking and more awareness needs to be done in communities.   

“Regardless if the statistics quoted are 30 percent or 50 percent of victims are tribal members of cases prosecuted, we still have an issue that hurts women and families in our communities. By tightening the laws regarding sex trafficking with the recent passage of the code, a huge step has been taken to protect victims. Hopefully, services and resources will be provided to help victims,” noted Takes War Bonnet.

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