It started as an argument over the use of a photo. I’d messaged an MMIW organization to request an interview. They weren’t able to grant one in the time frame I needed. I ran with the article, using a photo from their website, and sent them a link. I got a message asking me to take it down, because of the image. “You are briefing on a subject you have little knowledge about,” one message read. “This is not a novelty. This is about losing lives…”
The Missing and Murdered
Were they right about this not being a novelty, and losing lives? Absolutely. Their Facebook site is filled with images of the lost. Indigenous women and two-spirited people are disappearing, suffering, and dying. Current statistics show that indigenous women and two-spirited (a Native American term for people who identify as having both male and female spirits) people are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence than other populations. In 2016, of 5,712 reports of missing Alaskan and Native American, only 116 were reported to, and investigated by, the FBI.
An Epidemic of Trafficking
So what is the fate of these women and two-spirit people? It’s suspected that many are trafficked. The Navajo-Hopi Observer reports that “the National Congress of American Indians found in 2015 that, based on a survey of four sites, an estimated 40 percent of women involved in sex trafficking identify as American Indian, Alaska Native or First Nations.” Cindy McCain, co-Chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and wife of the late Sen. John McCain, says “Native Americans are largely overlooked as victims.” Victim Advocate Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya adds that “We’re associated with fetishes.” This combination makes for a perfect storm.
Is there Hope?
States have created laws to address human trafficking – a far cry from 2016, when only four states had them. The trouble is that the law changes wildly, from state to state, on what trafficking is. Lawmakers hoped that the creation of a federal office, Trafficking in Persons Act, and a law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, (22 USC chapter 78) would alleviate some of the difficulties. There’s also grassroots movements growing. #MMIW – murdered and missing Indigenous women – is a hashtag on Twitter. Coalitions, such as MMIG2S are forming. Perhaps there is hope.