Local activists in Minnesota have been urging local, state, and federal law enforcement units to take seriously a disturbing trend of crimes against Native American women, efforts they claim have been met with callous indifference from police forces and lawmakers.
Three Native American women have been killed and two more have disappeared in Northern Minnesota over the last ten months.
Lisa Isham, 52, Dawn Reynolds, 44, and Rose Downwind, 31, were all found murdered in northern Minnesota between May and December.
Two other Duluth women went missing, one of whom has since been found, while the other, Sheila St Clair, 48, has not. In April, a third Minnesota woman, Edith Chavez, was abducted in North Dakota, but managed to escape.
“I think a lot of disappearances of young women can be tracked back to some sort of trafficking,” Patti Larsen of Mending the Sacred Hoop, an organization focused on ending violence against Native women, said.
Chris Stark, a researcher focusing on sex trafficking on the ships in Duluth’s port, agreed. “There’s a connection between like the reservations and places like Bemidji and Duluth and the Twin Cities [Minneapolis/St Paul] in terms of the trafficking and prostitution routes that are run,” he said.
Advocates such as Larsen and Stark contend that Native women and girls represent an easy target for traffickers who seek to recruit them into commercial sex work. According to federal data, Native women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as women of other races. They are also subject to high rates of intimate-partner violence and other forms of violence. These factors, along with poverty, substance abuse and foster care, can make them vulnerable to exploitation.
One result of such vulnerability, advocates say, may be that Native women are disproportionately drawn into trafficking compared to other groups. A 2007 review of probation records from North Minneapolis found that 24% of the women charged with prostitution in that area were Native American, yet theyonly comprised only 2.2% of the population.