Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota – The Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education have released the landmark report, Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, the first study to detail the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in the state, as well as the specific resources and support they need to escape prostitution and trafficking. The report follows on earlier studies by Amnesty International and the US Justice Department which found that Native women experience the highest rates of sexual assault in the US.
Garden of Truth is based on interviews with more than 105 Native women in the Twin Cities, Duluth, and Bemidji, and finds a common thread of poverty and extreme and frequent violence throughout these women’s lifetimes, including child sexual abuse, rape, and beatings and traumatic brain injuries obtained during prostitution. A majority of the women experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 98% have been homeless at some point during their lives, and 92% say they want to escape prostitution but believe they have no other options. About half of the women interviewed met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking, which involves third-party control by pimps or traffickers.
“Native women are at exceptionally high risk for poverty and sexual violence, which are both elements in the trafficking of women,” says report co-author Nicole Matthews, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition. “The specific needs of Native women are not being met. Our goal was to assess the life circumstances of Native women in prostitution in Minnesota, a group of women not previously studied in research such as this.”
Garden of Truth calls prostitution a sexually exploitive, often violent economic option most often entered into by those with a lengthy history of sexual, racial, or economic victimization. “Prostitution is only now beginning to be understood as violence against women and children,” says report co-author Melissa Farley, founder of Prostitution Research & Education. “It has rarely been included in discussions of sexual violence against Native women. It is crucial to understand the sexual exploitation of Native women in prostitution today in its historical context of colonial violence against Native nations.”
The report draws on both quantitative and qualitative surveys, with researchers spending approximately 1.5 hours with each woman interviewed and administering four questionnaires that asked about family history, experiences of sexual and physical violence, homelessness, symptoms of PTSD and dissociation, and their use of available services such as domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, rape crisis centers, and substance abuse treatment. Researchers also asked about the extent to which women connected with their Native cultures and their personal experiences of racism.
Many of the women surveyed said they owed their survival to Native cultural practices, and most wanted access to Native healing approaches integrated with a range of mainstream services. Their most frequently stated needs were for housing, individual counseling, and job resources.
“In order for a woman to have the real choice to exit prostitution, a range of services must be offered,” says Nicole Matthews. “However, there are very few services especially designed for Native women in prostitution.”
The report calls for increased state and federal funding for transitional and long-term housing for Native women and others seeking to escape prostitution, along with funding for Native women's programs, including physical and mental health care, job training and placement, and legal services. It also urges state, local, and tribal officials to reexamine policies toward victims of prostitution and trafficking—for example, arresting and prosecuting sex buyers rather than victims of prostitution.
Garden of Truth follows on the heels of four other recent reports on Native women and sexual violence. These include Shattered Hearts: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of American Indian Women and Girls in Minnesota by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (2009); Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota by Advocates for Human Rights (2008); Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence by Amnesty International (2007); and a study by the US Justice Department which concluded that one in three Native women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime (Patricia Tjaden & Nancy Thoennes, Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, 2000).
Garden of Truth was produced with support from the Patrick and Aimee Butler Family Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, and Tides Foundation, and is available on the Web at http://www.miwsac.org. For more information, contact the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition at 651.645.4800.
About the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC) is a state-wide tribal coalition that works to end sexual violence against Native women. Created in 2001 through funding from the US Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women, MIWSAC is one of 22 tribal coalitions throughout the country that addresses gender violence in Native communities. MIWSAC members bring extensive cultural knowledge and experience in domestic violence and sexual assault programs, and include American Indian and Alaska Native women and men, non-Native allies, and anti-violence organizations. For more information, visit http://www.miwsac.org.
About Prostitution Research & Education
Prostitution Research & Education (PRE) conducts research on prostitution, pornography and trafficking, and offers education and consultation to researchers, survivors, the public and policymakers around the world. PRE’s goal is to abolish the institution of prostitution while advocating for alternatives to trafficking and prostitution, including emotional and physical healthcare for women in prostitution. PRE was founded in 1995 by Melissa Farley, a research and clinical psychologist. Learn more at http://www.prostitutionresearch.com.