Native Women Trapped in Lake Superior Sex Trade

Masters student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Christine Stark, says human trafficking is more prominent in the U.S. than many realize, particularly for Native American women in northern Minnesota.

In what is known as the Lake Superior sex trade, women, teenage girls and boys, and even babies are being sold on ships in the Duluth, Minnesota harbors and being sent to Ontario, Canada. Indigenous women from Canada, specifically Thunder Bay, are also being sold on ships headed for Duluth. Some women are sold to crews for months at a time and are left off the boat when the ship returns to the Duluth harbor months later.

“The women and children — and I’ve even had women talk about a couple of babies brought onto the ships and sold to the men on ships — are being sold or are exchanging sex for alcohol, a place to stay, drugs, money and so forth,” Stark said. “It’s quite shocking.”

Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Ottawa branch, said children are often sold into the sex trafficking industry by their parents. Though some families may sell their friends and loved ones into the sex trade industry, many organizations point out that much of the trafficking is organized by criminal gangs.

Kazia Pickard, the Director of Policy and Research with the Thunder Bay-based Ontario Native Women’s Association, added, “The reason that indigenous women and girls are sometimes trafficked has to do with all of these ongoing issues like poverty. Another one of the large risk factors for indigenous women and girls is the lack of housing … women will sometimes engage in survival sex, not of their choice, in order to have somewhere to live.”

Unfortunately for sex trafficking victims in Duluth, safe housing specifically designed for victims does not exist there, which, according to Duluth resident and sex trafficking survivor Gina, allows pimps to hunt down women and force them to work.

Another factor that keeps the industry alive and well is the demand. “Without a decrease in demand, supply will just continue to grow,” Shunu Shrestha, Duluth’s trafficking task force coordinator, said. As a result, the task force has begun to focus its attention on awareness of the harm sex trafficking causes to men, since men are the primary purchasers of sex.

Learn more at Katie Rucke’s Mint Press News article: Native Women, Even Babies, Exploited In Lake Superior Sex Trade.

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