More Native girls ensnared in sex trafficking

By Alex Dermarban
Anchorage, Alaska (AP) October 2010
Sex-crimes investigators say they’re seeing more rural Alaska Native girls and women who leave their families and village for Anchorage, only to be lured into prostitution by pimps and the promise of security.

The sex-traffickers see young Native runaways as especially easy prey, said investigators. They’re adrift in the big city, separated from a support network, and seeking money and attention.

Kathy Lacey, an investigator with the Anchorage Police Department, and Jolene Goeden, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, shared the information with scores of delegates at the Association of Village Council Presidents annual convention on Oct. 6.

They didn’t give specific numbers but said they’ve seen a rising trend in roughly the past year or so.

The two came to Bethel to begin the process of educating rural residents about what’s happening, so parents can warn children. They want potential victims to be wary.

“When someone pulls up in a really nice Cadillac Escalade and they’re promising them the world, we hope they’re going to think twice before getting into that car,” Goeden said.

The information prompted an immediate discussion from delegates, who called it “frightening.” Some elders spoke in Yup’ik and talked of lost values. They urged parents and grandparents to monitor their kids.

The Native women and girls are being hunted at places where teens gather: malls, Anchorage’s central bus stop downtown, the McLaughlin Youth Center, Covenant House. They’re lured into the lifestyle with such things as gifts, shopping trips and alcohol and drugs, the agents said.

At some point, their boyfriend, or pimp, wants payback.

The “sex-trafficking world is incredibly, incredibly violent. Once that grooming process is over it turns into, ‘You owe me. I need you to do this for me one time. And then it happens over and over again,”’ Goeden said.

Native girls are targeted in part because they’re considered “versatile,” meaning they can be advertised on the Internet as Hawaiian or Asian.

“It’s all comes down to money,” she said, with the pimps hauling in thousands of dollars a week.

It’s hard to rescue some girls, especially from villages. They may not see themselves as victims, particularly those who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.

“We’ve been told, ‘I’d rather be getting paid for it than giving it away for free,” Lacey said.

Others may be afraid to seek help, out of fear for their lives.

“They don’t feel like they have a choice in leaving this life,” Lacey said.

The sex ring grows as girls recruit friends from the villages, promising them a free place to stay, shopping trips and free meals at their ‘boyfriend’s’ house, the investigators said.

National statistics hold true in Anchorage: One in three street girls are drawn into prostitution in 48 hours, Lacey said.

Economic difficulties in villages seem to be one factor in the increasing trend.

“We don’t want to scare you and give you the impression that every young girl or every woman that comes to Anchorage, that this happens to them, but it is happening and it is happening to a number of young Alaska Native girls,” said Goeden.

The investigators see girls 18 or younger as victims, Lacey said. They arrest them, but only to separate them from their pimp and get them social services, such as counseling and housing.

They don’t follow through with prosecuting them, Lacey said.

After the presentation, Andrew George of Nightmute stood before the crowd and spoke forcefully in Yup’ik.

Parents and family need to teach their children and protect them. Native children are in dire need, he said, according to a convention interpreter.

Ray Watson, chair of AVCP, a tribal consortium providing social services in the Bethel region, said delegates must go home and warn villagers about what’s happening.

Myron Naneng, president of the group, said rural schools need to invite the Anchorage investigators into their classrooms.