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IHS Recognizes the Importance of Human Trafficking Prevention in Indian Country

by Billie J. Brown, MN, RN, MEd, Aaniiih (White Clay) & Nakoda (Assiniboine) of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in north-central Montana

IHS announces the observance of January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It is a month for all health care providers across Indian Health Service/Tribal/Urban facilities to connect across disciplines, with community partners, and with leaders to focus on prevention efforts and address human trafficking across Indian Country.

Human trafficking (a.k.a. trafficking in persons) is defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion for a person to provide labor or services (labor trafficking), or to engage in commercial sex acts (sex trafficking). Human trafficking can include forceful participation in criminal activity and can affect individuals of any age, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, citizen status, education level, or socioeconomic status. It can occur in one’s community, without the individual being transported to another location, and traffickers (acting alone or as part of an organized criminal enterprise) can identify as any gender and may be a stranger, acquaintance, partner, or family member. Individuals affected by human trafficking often do not identify as being trafficked.

Due to the immediate and potentially long-term health effects from human trafficking, including physical, psychological, and negative chronic health outcomes, the IHS views human trafficking as a health care issue, and establishes policy for providers to practice to a trauma-informed, responsive workforce.

In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 10,360 reports of human trafficking situations involving 16,710 individual victims. Of these reports, 160 were listed as American Indian/Alaska Native/Indigenous American. Many challenges such as lack of resources, fear of reporting to law enforcement, or engaging with the criminal justice system exist within Indian Country, and as it relates to the collection and reporting of data specific to the prevalence of human trafficking of AI/AN individuals.

Federal and tribal partners continue to work diligently at addressing human trafficking and support strengthening prevention efforts. Collaborating across disciplines and with community partners allow a comprehensive, culturally-responsive, and trauma-informed approach with every individual at every encounter, enhancing the ability to develop a trusting relationship and meet the complex, unique needs of individuals affected by human trafficking and other forms of violence.

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Billie J. Brown, MN, RN, MEd, Aaniiih (White Clay) & Nakoda (Assiniboine) of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in north-central Montana
Billie J. Brown, MN, RN, MEd, Aaniiih (White Clay) & Nakoda (Assiniboine) of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in north-central Montana, serves as the forensic nursing coordinator with the IHS Division of Nursing Services, Office of Clinical and Preventive Services. Prior to her work with the IHS Forensics Healthcare team, Billie served in various nursing, nursing education, and leadership roles with rural tribal communities. This service has included work with Montana tribal colleges along with IHS, tribal, and private health care organizations on or near the Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow Reservations in Montana.