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Sen. Lisa Murkowski Calls Attention to Sex Trafficking of Alaska Native Women

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The Obama administration will discuss legislation today geared at combating violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women.

The news comes shortly after United States Senator Lisa Murkowski raised awareness of the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking among Alaska Natives and American Indians at the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on July 14.

"Whether it is one in three native women that will be raped in their lifetime or one in four, the fact of the matter is that any act of violence against any woman is simply unacceptable," Murkowski stated. "We have struggled for so long in our state to try to improve these statistics, and I wish that I could tell you we were making some progress. But I meet with far too many who tell me that there is still so much that is kept in the shadows."

She explained to federal officials why Native women and girls are often targeted by sex traffickers. "I'm told that they are considered 'versatile,' because they can be trafficked either as Asian or as Hawaiian on the Internet," Murkowski said. "We have had some really frightening incidences where young women coming into town, coming in from the villages, basically being picked up off the street and lost, gone forever into these sex trafficking rings, and the families never knowing where they are or if they'll ever come back."

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She implored the government to take action, because too often the situation is met with a sense of fear and a feeling of powerlessness. "I think we face these realities with a sense of helplessness at times," Murkowski said. "Everything that we can do at the federal level and the state level and local level to shine the light on what is going on and help anyway we can, we need to do so."

Murkowski went on to note that the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage is a major concern. "Can you tell me what the Department of Justice is doing to target those sex traffickers who are targeting Alaska Native women and American Indian women?" she asked Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli of the Department of Justice.

Perrelli acknowledged that Alaska Natives who are attending the AFN convention are "coming for health care and ending up in the hands of commercial sex traffickers." Perrelli explained that "law enforcement didn't always know how to identify the issue, so more training is needed."

Today, Perrelli will be joined by Kimberly Teehee, the White House senior policy advisor for Native American affairs, and Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women, on a conference call to discuss the proposed bill to fight violence against women.