Campaign: Legal Efforts Against Trafficking of Native Youth
Six hundred miles east of the well-traveled majesty of Glacier National Park, the mountains give way to a generous spread of badlands and plains, and empty into a place that, it seems, time has forgotten. The Fort Peck Reservation is home to Montana’s oldest rodeo and the Assiniboine and Sioux Indian Nations.
Fort Peck is as remote as any inhabited region of the United States. The landscape stretches out endlessly under the bright glare of open and unrelenting skies, with small dusty homesteads and trailers dotting the landscape.
While beautiful, especially amid the sacred badlands at sunset, or along the wild and unpopulated Missouri River Breaks, this is a very difficult place in which to exist.
The Fort Peck Tribal community endures crippling poverty; 75% live below the poverty line, and access to all human services is acutely limited. Young people on the Reservation experience all of the accepted "vulnerability factors" for trafficking, including a greater than 50% rate of child welfare system involvement and extraordinary rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and PTSD.
The Native children on Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana are being exploited through sex trafficking in record numbers. While many people understand sex trafficking to be a largely international issue, involving kidnapping and urban sex rings with foreign national workers, many Native minors are currently being prostituted by adults nationwide, and the problem has grown particularly bad for Fort Peck.
In an area of North Dakota a few miles to the East of Fort Peck, known as “the Bakken,” a catastrophic Wild West has emerged. Young men are swarming the region in astonishing numbers because of the promise of lucrative jobs in fracking. Fort Peck has seen an unprecedented surge of violent crime and sex and drug trafficking, overwhelming the already extremely limited law enforcement resources in the area.
Fort Peck’s Native children—some as young as nine–are being used in the “man camps” of transient Bakken worker populations. Young people are recruited from powwows and local convenience stores. Child brothels operate out of trailers on the Reservation.
The tribes do not have a law enforcement, prosecutorial, or victim services framework to handle this sharply escalating problem. Notably, they also lack a tribal code provision that criminalizes child trafficking and therefore lack ability to call attention to the problem, educate law enforcement, and identify victims.
The goal of the campaign is to provide legal and legislative assistance to the youth, community organizations, and Tribal Government working to fight trafficking.
When funded, Melina Healey and her team will travel to Fort Peck to interview victims, advocates, and community members, and work with them to develop solutions. Her hope is that their work will enable local institutions to better protect vulnerable youth and respond to their exploitation.
The campaign's goal is $2,000.