South Dakota is known for a few things – Mount Rushmore, General Custer, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and the natural beauty of the Black Hills mountain range and Badlands National Park.
There exists however a darker, nearly unknown side to this remote state which is now gaining national attention: human trafficking.
Since 2010, 50 cases have been opened by federal prosecutors to break up prostitution rings. Three have resulted in life sentences for traffickers.
Why South Dakota? Location, demographics, and socio-economic factors all contribute to an area that is ripe for big-city pimps to thrive. Two of the three who have been sentenced to life in prison for trafficking hailed from Chicago and had criminal backgrounds.
“You’ve got poverty, you have high, high rates of sexual abuse, which is often a precursor to prostitution”, said law professor and Native American domestic violence expert Sarah Deer. “You have just a sense of desperation on the reservation in terms of day-to-day life.”
Indeed, half of the victims involved in the 50 most recent cases have involved Native American women between the ages of 14 and 42, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Clapper.
“They don’t have family, they’re looking for attention,” says Clapper. “They might be poor, they might be addicted to drugs or alcohol.”
Not all hope is lost however. A new shelter for trafficking victims is currently being constructed on a reservation in south-central South Dakota, after receiving a federal grant of $750,000.
The housing facility will consist of 14 beds and be named the Pathfinder Center.
According to FBI figures, 27 million people are victimized by sex trafficking worldwide. The trade generates $32 billion per year, and is the second largest criminal activity universally.
[AP] [Keloland] [KDLT News] [Photo courtesy TexasGOPVote.com]