Native American girls as young as 12 are being targeted for sex trafficking as the Bakken oilfield boom unfolds in North Dakota and Montana.
Indian Country Today Media Network reports that U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a listening session at Fort Peck Community College on the subject late last month.
The listening session was aimed at gathering more information from tribal leaders and local law enforcement regarding the spike in sex trafficking of underage girls, as well as other related crimes that have increased since the oil boom began in the Bakken region. Also among the panelists at Thursday’s session was United States Attorney Mike Cotter, who appeared at the event to voice the growing alarm shared by he and his colleagues in Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming, about the exploding industry of human trafficking involving mostly Native girls aged 12 to 14 who are being sold for sex.
“If you look around the rural regions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, you would not expect to find 12-14 year old girls sold for sex on the Internet, or lured by an adult for sex or forced into a life of servitude by predators to sell their bodies to strangers,” Cotter told the audience of about 100 tribal leaders, community members and law enforcement. “It is hard to imagine but it is here in our region, and this corruption occurs with too much frequency and is more prevalent than one would imagine.”
Suzette Brewer of ICTMN reported that traffickers target young girls from low-income homes where one or both parents are absent. Many are already victims of child abuse and neglect and struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
Tribal leaders said their police forces are underfunded, understaffed and “ill-equipped to take on Mexican cartels, who they say have infiltrated the region and are well-organized and armed with heavy weaponry, including machine guns,” Brewer reported.