January has been recognized as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month since 2010. It is dedicated to bringing awareness to enslaved individuals and persons who’ve been trafficked all over the world. While exact statistics for human trafficking are difficult to collect, it is well known that Indigenous and First Nation communities are especially vulnerable to human trafficking.
Due to lack of resources and issues of jurisdiction dating back to the colonial era, Indigenous and First Nations communities across North America are bringing awareness to trafficked and enslaved persons through a grassroots movement called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). This has been expanded to include girls, two spirit and, in some instances, men.
The most important, and perhaps sensitive task is identifying victims and learning how to help. Key indicators of labor and sex trafficking include:
• Being fearful or extremely intimidated speaking to others
• Having the inability or unwillingness to make eye contact
• Looking physically malnourished
• Showing physical signs of abuse, torture or injury
• Showing tattoos, burns or brands to indicate ownership
• Displaying signs of substance abuse and/or addiction tracks
• Being lethargic and/or incoherent
• Wearing clothing inappropriate for the climate
• Having personal hygiene unkempt or not being allowed to bathe
• Receiving calls or texts that makes them want to leave immediately
• Having scripted responses
• Having financial dependency
Similar to these, some red flags that may appear in relation to minors and children include:
• Cutting ties with usual family or friends
• Involving themselves in a subordinate relationship with an older “friend”
• Lacking school performance/attendance
• Getting picked up/dropped off by a much older, unrelated person they describe as their boyfriend/girlfriend
• Referring to sexual situations that are beyond their developmental age
• Being accompanied by someone who monitors who they talk to and what they say
• Appearing in denial when asked about these situations
It is recommended that you not approach a suspected trafficker or victim. Instead, it is vital to timely report any signs to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733 (BEFREE). A tip can also be submitted on www.ice.gov/tips.
Indigenous victims of human trafficking may feel fear or shame when speaking up about their situation. However, the only thing seen when opening up about abuse is strength.
It takes an army committed to learning, sharing, working and fighting to stop this scourge on our society.