WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, highlighted the urgent need for additional resources and support, including law enforcement and training – but also mental health care and substance abuse treatment – to help address human trafficking in Indian Country.
Udall made his comments during an oversight hearing titled, “The GAO Reports on Human Trafficking of American Indian and Alaska Natives in the United States,” which was held to discuss implementation of recommendations by the Government Accountability Office and hear from several expert witnesses.
“We must work together to ensure that Native victims of human trafficking get the support they urgently need, and to provide federal and law enforcement agencies with enough resources to keep Indian Country safe. But the federal government could be doing more now to help Native victims who are slipping through the cracks,” Udall said during the hearing. “Federal agencies should do all they can to collect and monitor data on human trafficking in Indian Country. And doing so, they should be held accountable for working with Tribal governments to end human trafficking and to make sure these data gathering efforts do not jeopardize victim confidentiality.”
“In the long term, individuals working in Indian Country – including BIA law enforcement, IHS health care providers, and Indian gaming personnel – must receive proper training to spot, stop, and respond to human trafficking in the communities they serve,” Udall added.
Federal data on human trafficking in Native communities is limited, but available information suggests that Native communities are disproportionately targeted by human traffickers. The committee requested that the GAO — Congress’ independent investigative agency — examine the extent of human trafficking of Native Americans in the United States, and research the frequency with which law enforcement agencies have encountered it, the services that are available to victims, demographic information, efforts to increase prosecutions, and other federal initiatives.
At today’s hearing, the committee examined the GAO reports that resulted from those requests and heard testimony from experts and agency officials who work in the field, including Tracy Toulou, director of the Office of Tribal Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Human Trafficking.
Last week, Udall and Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) sent a bipartisan letter with other committee members asking agencies that work with the public in Indian Country to provide their employees with more training on spotting, stopping, and responding to human trafficking and domestic violence.
Video and further information about the hearing, including a witness list, are available here.
Udall’s opening remarks are available below.
Thank you, Chairman Hoeven, for holding this oversight hearing to discuss GAO’s Reports on Human Trafficking of Native Americans in the United States.
Human trafficking affects every community, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds.
GAO’s latest reports highlight challenges around tracking, combatting, and responding to human trafficking in Indian Country. But these reports also reveal that Native American human trafficking victims have an overwhelming need for more supportive services, including health care.
As I reviewed the report published by our witness Ms. Matthew’s organization – the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition – I was struck by the alarming statistics.
-48 percent of Native victims in Minnesota don’t have access to sufficient health care.
-58 percent reported needing substance abuse treatment.
-75 percent requested greater access to counseling and mental health services.
Native victim services are plainly hurt by lack of access to quality health care in Indian Country.
All the members of this committee understand these challenges.
Yet the Senate almost considered legislation yesterday that would have clawed back health care advances for Native Americans.
The Graham-Cassidy-Johnson-Heller repeal bill would have slashed funding to Medicaid. Services provided under Medicaid are exactly the types of medical and mental health services most needed by human trafficking victims.
And the bill would have dismantled federal guarantees for essential health benefits – like behavioral health.
So while I’m glad GOP leadership decided not to vote on the bill, we must remain vigilant to ensure that any future health care bill does not cut into the health care needs of human trafficking victims in Indian Country or undermine the federal government’s obligation to meet its trust and treaty obligations to Tribes.
For years, Tribal leaders and Native activists have reminded us of these obligations by sharing their powerful — and often heart-breaking – human trafficking stories.
Reminding this committee of the need for more information and resources to combat human trafficking in Indian Country.
We must work together to ensure that Native victims of human trafficking get the support they urgently need, and to provide federal and law enforcement agencies with enough resources to keep Indian Country safe.
But the federal government could be doing more now to help Native victims who are slipping through the cracks.
Federal agencies should do all they can to collect and monitor data on human trafficking in Indian Country. And doing so, they should be held accountable for working with Tribal governments to end human trafficking and to make sure these data gathering efforts do not jeopardize victim confidentiality.
In the long term, individuals working in Indian Country – including BIA law enforcement, IHS health care providers, and Indian gaming personnel – must receive proper training to spot, stop, and respond to human trafficking in the communities they serve.
I strongly believe that interagency coordination through training will be critical to effectively address human trafficking. That is why last week, I — along with Chairman Hoeven, and Senators McCain, Cantwell, Tester, Franken, Schatz, Heitkamp, and Cortez Masto – wrote to DOI, HHS, and the National Indian Gaming Commission calling on them to provide more education to their employees on how to identify human trafficking and domestic violence victims.