The Seattle Indian Center, serving the Seattle Native population since 1972, will now offer services especially designed to help victims of sex trafficking.
According to Marissa Perez, Program Manager at the Center, Project Beacon is a three-year program that will serve Native American victims of commercial sex exploitation and trafficking regardless of age or gender. Project Beacon is funded by a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Victim’s Services.
“Native people are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation,” according to Perez.
She noted that local research by the International Rescue Committee found that nearly 25 percent of domestic sex trafficking victims identify as Native American or Alaska Native and that the city of Seattle has been identified as one of the 20 top cities reporting human trafficking cases.
“Seattle is on the Interstate Highway 5 corridor that runs from Mexico to Canada and is a known conduit for drugs, guns and sex trafficking victims,” she noted.
“We see many young Alaska Natives coming to Seattle from isolated villages for which this may be their first city experience, “ she said.
They often arrive in the city with limited resources and are especially vulnerable to offers of help from pimps who are eager to groom them to enter the commercial sex industry.
Victims are also lured into trafficking via social networking websites according to Perez.
Although there are other resources in Seattle serving victims of sex trafficking, Project Beacon fills an important gap in such services for Native peoples.
“All of our services, such as housing, health care and mental health, are trauma informed and include an understanding of the unique historical, generational trauma that Native people may experience,” she said.
Some programming for victims of sex trafficking has been limited to children or only provided to adults if they are willing to assist law enforcement in prosecuting traffickers. The Safe Harbor Law in Minnesota, limited to children is one such example.
Project Beacon, however, has no such restrictions according to Perez and provides clients with a meal, place to shower or just a safe place to sit and talk regardless of their willingness to address their involvement with sex trafficking.
Local tribal leadership as well as the Seattle Police Department and City Attorney’s office has agreed to work with Project Beacon to help victims get the help they need according to Perez.
“Project Beacon is unique because we are Native ourselves and understand the cultural and spiritual needs that Native folks may have,” Perez said.
Future federal support for programs such as Project Beacon that address the impact of sex trafficking on victims and take a farther look upstream at reasons that some populations are more vulnerable than others to trafficking may be in question under the Trump administration according to long time advocates.
“We are seeing more federal RFP’s (Requests for Proposals) from the Department of Justice and others that focus on law enforcement rather than victims services. I haven’t seen any federal RFPs for serving AI/AN victims of DV/sexual assault/sex trafficking, or funding for tribal programs serving these victims,” noted Sandi Pierce of Othayonih Research, whose research focuses on sex trafficking with an emphasis of its impact on Native peoples.
She noted, for instance, the Office on Trafficking in Persons with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently has no funding opportunities listed for programs providing services for victims of sex trafficking. According to fiscal reports, the Office on Trafficking in Persons and other offices with the HHS provided numerous funding opportunities in past years.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions comes into office opposing the Violence Against Women Act, another funding stream for programs helping victims of sex trafficking, and President Trump signs an executive order threatening to take away federal funding from sanctuary cities, (including Seattle) the future federal support of meaningful help for sex trafficking victims remains unclear.