Tribal members want violence against Native women to end. Photo courtesy of Eileen Janis
Published March 19, 2018
ALBUQUERQUE – She grew up feeling unsupported, neglected and ended up on the streets of Albuquerque for income after searching for a better life. This young woman from one of New Mexico’s Pueblos, who witnessed domestic violence and substance abuse in her home, says she’s now finding the care and love she wasn’t receiving.
“Walking the streets and doing drugs, and alcoholism, it makes you feel – sad to say- it makes you feel like you’re somebody,” says the female who wished to remain anonymous during an August interview with Native America Calling, a national, live radio show.
“Do I like doing this? No. It sucks. But it is life and it is real. I’m not guaranteed to live another day tomorrow, because it’s crazy living out here in the streets,” the young woman continued. “I didn’t get the attention or thought I had the attention when I was back home. And so I feel like I have it out here. I wish I had love. I don’t know what love is … So I find it out here by drinking and making fast, easy money by selling myself. I’m not proud of it but it helps me survive.”
The average age of females who are first trafficked is between 12 – 14, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. In a survey for four urban sites with high Native American populations, 40 percent of trafficking victims were Native, according to a tribal briefing by the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center.
While no statistics are available in New Mexico where Native Americans make up more than 11 percent of the population, many women on Albuquerque streets are Native, as identified by the Project Coordinator for Sex Trafficking Initiatives for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW). The project coordinator conducts street outreach weekly with area community partners.
“Albuquerque is a destination and transit point for trafficking. With I-40 intersecting with I-25, we are seeing our Native relatives particularly vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation by those passing through,” CSVANW Project Coordinator Cheyenne Antonio said. “There is a severe lack of data because many trafficking crimes go unreported and many survivors do not see themselves as victims.”
It’s these victims and survivors that CSVANW, a regional nonprofit providing technical assistance, capacity building and domestic and sexual assault resources to tribes, would like to advocate for as it begins to see a rise in sex trafficking in tribal casinos, hotels, truck stops or convenience stores, powwows and family homes. The opioid and meth crisis on some reservations has also pushed Native parents to begin trafficking their children.
“We think of our homes as being safe, but 72 percent of sexual violence among Native Americans in New Mexico occur within the home, according to reporting by state medical providers treating those who sought medical care,” Antonio said.
However, some of these cases are being prosecuted as child sexual abuse instead of trafficking because it involves family, Deleana OtherBull, CSVANW Executive Director said. “People are trading sex to fuel substance abuse habits or even basic survival needs, such as cash for utility bills, rent and groceries, or for gas.
“Bringing together our tribal leaders and community stakeholders to address this epidemic is how we can begin to build awareness and do more together,” OtherBull said.
The Coalition will discuss these initiatives and give its recommendations to tribes at the 5th Annual Tribal Leaders Summit March 20 – 21 at the Albuquerque Marriott Uptown. The Coalition will also provide a status report on sexual and domestic violence in tribal communities.
The Coalition will also discuss gaps and challenges in addressing crimes against children and violence within LGBTQ2+ communities, among other topics.
For more information on the 5th Tribal Leaders Summit, go to www.csvanw.org
. For a list of CSVANW recommendations to tribal leaders or a briefing, go to www.csvanw.org.