The Quilt Walk for Justice was displayed in Washington, D.C., on December 7, 2015, to draw attention to high rates of crime against Native women. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs reschedules hearing on human trafficking

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will hold an oversight hearing next week to focus on human trafficking.

An April report from the Government Accountability Office said federal agencies are failing to collect data on Native American trafficking victims. As a result, it's not possible to determine the full extent of the problem even though Native women and their advocates say it's a huge issue in their communities.

"It's not a secret β€” we all know people" who have gone missing or murdered, Tami Truett Jerue, the executive director of the Alaska Native Women's Resource Center, said at a briefing on Capitol Hill in February.

Of the four agencies with investigative and prosecutorial powers in Indian Country, only the Bureau of Indian Affairs collects data on the tribal affiliation of a trafficking victim, the GAO said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the network of U.S. Attorneys across the nation either fail to collect the same information or only do so in limited circumstances, according to the report.

"Also, considering that human trafficking is known to be an underreported crime, it is unlikely that these figures, or any other investigative or prosecutorial data, represent the full extent to which human trafficking is occurring in Indian country," the report stated.

A subsequent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Native women suffer from the second-highest homicide rate in the United States. Most of the victims are young -- between the ages of 18 and 29, according to the data.

The committee's hearing takes place next Wednesday, September 27. A witness list hasn't been posted online.

The committee had previously scheduled a hearing on human trafficking on July 26 but it was canceled due to unrelated bickering among Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the panel, said Congress needs to take action to address the issue.

"For years, tribal leaders and Native activists have raised the issue of human trafficking with Congress," Udall said. "By sharing their powerful and often heart-breaking stories, they have elevated our awareness about the need for more information and more resources to combat the spread of human trafficking in Indian Country."

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "The GAO Reports on Human Trafficking of Native Americans in the United States" (September 27, 2017)

Government Accountability Office Reports:
Action Needed to Identify the Number of Native American Victims Receiving Federally-funded Services (April 6, 2017)
Information on Cases in Indian Country or that Involved Native Americans (July 24, 2017)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report:
Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence β€” United States, 2003–2014 (July 21, 2017)

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