WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, today held a committee oversight hearing to examine findings from recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on the human trafficking of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The hearing was an opportunity to hear from federal agencies and partner organizations on challenges in assessing the impact of human trafficking in Indian Country, as well as efforts to combat the issue and assist victims.
“Human trafficking is a truly despicable activity aimed at exploiting vulnerable people, usually women and girls,” said Hoeven. “A difficult crime to detect, human trafficking is often underreported due to a multitude of factors. The invisibility of this crime has led it to become a multi-billion dollar illicit industry worldwide. Indians are considered to be one of the most vulnerable targets for trafficking. American Indian and Alaska Native women suffer sexual violence at the highest rate, per capita, in the country.”
According to the GAO, federal agencies generally maintain data on investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking in Indian Country, but they do not collect data on whether the victims are Native American. This failure in data gathering makes it challenging to evaluate the full scope of the issue.
“The collection of data is only the first step in addressing these crimes and helping these victims. The disturbing conclusion from these reports indicates that it is really tough to confirm the extent of the trafficking problem in Indian Country without more data and better metrics. Without knowing the extent of the problem, it is difficult to adequately address it. How is it that agencies can collect data on non-Indian traffickers in this country – especially those victims coming in from Eastern Europe and Asia – but these same agencies cannot track the activities in Indian Country, for tribes and people to whom there is a trust responsibility?” asked Hoeven.
As chairman, Hoeven is working to improve public safety in tribal communities. At the hearing, the senator announced he will soon be introducing the reauthorization of the Tribal Law and Order Act, which will include new provisions requiring the Department of Justice to collect data specifically on American Indian and Alaska Native victims of human trafficking.
Hoeven also recently helped lead a bipartisan letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Jonodev Chaudhuri, chair of the National Indian Gaming Commission, to strengthen federal officials’ ability to recognize and respond to human trafficking and domestic violence in Indian Country.
In addition, the senator today introduced the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act of 2017, legislation to increase assistance for Indian victims of crime. The bill extends Crime Victims Fund resources to Indian tribes through a fair and competitive grant program, and provides tribal communities with the flexibility to determine the programs and services that will best meet their local needs.
During today’s hearing, the committee heard testimony from Dr. Gretta Goodwin, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office; Mr. Tracy Toulou, director of the Office of Tribal Justice for the U.S. Department of Justice; Mr. Jason Thompson, acting deputy director of the Office of Justice Services at the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Ms. Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition; and Mrs. Cindy McCain, co-chair of the Arizona Governor’s Human Trafficking Council.
For more information on their testimonies click here.