Sex Trafficking on the Reservation: One Native American Nation's Struggle Against the Trade
Six years ago, teenage girls on Fort Berthold, a Native American reservation in North Dakota, started showing up at school with unusual things: manicured nails, fancy makeup, iPods, brand-new cell phones. In a place where the poverty rate is often more than three times the national average and the unemployment rate hovers near 40 percent, no one could figure out how the girls were able to afford such luxuries.
Around the same time, the number of teenage runaways on the reservation, home to the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nations (known collectively as MHA Nation), suddenly spiked. On one weekend alone, Angela Cummings, a former criminal investigator for the tribe, says she could expect to hear from three to 10 sets of parents: "There were a lot of parents searching for children who never came home." Before long, the girls began cycling through the juvenile justice system for minor offenses like underage drinking. Cummings compared notes with fellow MHA Nation members, and they noticed a trend: Many of the girls had matching tattoos, a red flag for involvement in prostitution, because pimps sometimes brand women that way. "Someone was actually marking these young 13-year-old girls," says Chalsey Snyder, a former tribal court clerk.