There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
Native American woman Jessica was thirteen when she was taken to Duluth, Minnesota and introduced to sex work by her older boyfriend.
Um, well my childhood was pretty good, ‘til the age of about thirteen. I met a guy, he changed my whole life in perspective of, like, my life. I thought differently, I stopped going to school, I went up north with him to Duluth, started doing drugs, met another friend – a girl – so she kind of manipulated me to do drugs more, like really do it, and, like, not think twice about it. So after that I started turning tricks and I was just in the life after that and I didn’t care about anything else - my parents, you know, I stopped answering phones and I just, that’s all.
He was older, probably like, three, four years older, probably like eight- nineteen at the time and I was thirteen and he just changed my whole life I guess.
He told me I could get more money and that we could get more things in life and just kind of manipulating my head and telling me that we could get a car, you know, we could go shopping and that’s all I wanted to do at that age, you know what I mean? So I was like, I might as well, ‘cos I didn’t really care at the point because he was just like, all my whole world. Like I fell in love, my brain just stopped working to anything else. And that’s all I cared about. Whatever he said do, I would do.
I was like, “He don’t love me, that don’t seem right. Why is he, you know, trying to make me have sex with other men?” You know what I mean? So I was like, that don’t even make sense to me, that’s just crazy. So after that I stopped talking to him and I met another dude, and he was the same. But he was way older, about thirty-five, and he just kind of manipulated me too, and did the same kind of thing. And I just fall for it, and I had friends and neighbours who were starting to do it, and so I was like, why wouldn’t I? And I started doing drugs more, buying it.
I didn’t feel less than, probably more better than other people [because of her race/ethnicity/religion]. I don’t really, I feel like I was more highly respected actually. I don’t know why, but I felt like because I was making more money than the other girls, you know what I mean, and I was always sleeping on the bed whenever the girls were sleeping on the floor. I dunno, I just always felt more high than anybody else.
I placed ads, but I didn’t recruit them [the other girls]. When they came in, it was through the guy and he already knew them and I didn’t ask why, how, or whatever. And yeah, I just did the ads if they needed help, I didn’t really do ‘em, like all the things, if they needed help. That’s all I did. And they kind of felt like they knew that I was the you know, “bottom bitch” or whatever you want to call it, they knew that, but they still continued to respect me and think that I had more experience, kind of.
There was about 7 or 8 [girls with her]. For a little bit it was [in Duluth], then we moved down to the Minneapolis area, started using – I didn’t even know what it was called – it was some site that you get cheaper hotels and we used that, and whoever picked us, wherever he’d send us, that’s where we’d go. But really Bloomington area and Minneapolis area.
There was a lot of white women, white ones, and Mexican. Not too many other natives. I was about the only native there and the other one was Mexican, white, and yeah, that’s it.
I thought it was normal, you know what I mean? I thought that lifestyle was normal. I thought it was kind of, not like – I’d left my other friends, like you know what I mean? When I had them before when I was younger. My best friend, I didn’t tell her nothing about it, it was just normal, I left her out of it. I stopped talking to her for a couple of years and, yeah, it was normal. Yeah it was normal. But my other friends, they used to, they still went to school and I just stopped talking to ‘em, like, I just felt like they were nothing I guess and the other girls were just my new friends, my new sisters, my new family, you know what I mean? Felt it was really normal.
And it kind of felt good when you get money, you know what I mean? You’d get money and you don’t have to ask nobody for nothing, you know what I mean? And even though I’d give it to him, I felt like it was still being spent on me, yeah. So I didn’t stop. If it wasn’t, I probably would have, maybe went my own way, but it was.
It was not the beginning to the end [with this man], it was like about a year and a half with him, then it was another man. I’d go to the other one, because I didn’t know until I got into the relationship and then they found out I was doing it before, so they’re like, oh, why don’t I, probably, you know, do it again? And that’s what happened. But after that second dude, I was like, I’m done with the dudes, I’m gonna do it myself. And me and this other girl just did it ourselves, and she was native, but it was not one of the girls that was with me before. It was another girl and we did it together.
We would go to outcalls and always get, you know, weird people, you know, really weird, weird people. And we got robbed before, we got, you know, hit before, like all that stuff so. It was kind of more scarier by yourself, you know what I mean? But it felt better, ‘cos you were doing it alone. We were spending [the money] on ourselves and we were spending it on our own room, together.
It was over by Lindale and Bloomington kind of. I was over South [Minneapolis] back and forth but a lot over there in Bloomington. And by those hotels by the mall of America. But we did have crazy people sometimes, you know, when we went to outcalls. We needed to go over there sometimes and you know its crazy.
I think it was because I had a friend, other than the native girl, and she was with me with the other girls but she became one of my really good friends. And she was really big, so if I needed her I would call her if I really needed her and she would always be there, you know, if I needed a ride to an outcall she would be there and she would wait outside, and she said, ‘If you need me’, you know, ‘if you ain’t out in whatever minutes I’m gonna be in there’ you know she was like, my ride or die girl. That she would beat a dude up, literally. So, she had done it before, so I felt like I wasn’t worried about, you know, getting killed or raped or something but you know, it did happen once. And I can’t say that she wasn’t there, but she was there, but I didn’t get the chance to call. But you know after that, that’s when it slowed down about me doing outcalls and I just did in-calls.
I know a couple of pimps who did do that [be controlling] before. They would call, you know what I mean? And even though it was different, you know what I mean, so I knew it was a pimp and they always tried to get us, you know, to come, but it never happened. They always said like, ‘We can do this together blah blah blah’ but it never happened. I stayed to myself and me and her just did it.
Um, I was about 17 [when she left sex work], when I got pregnant. Well I did it for like a month when I got pregnant, ‘cos I needed the money. So I kind of stacked up for- even though I was pregnant I did it. ‘Cos I didn’t know who the dad was. I had a, like I had a feeling who it was, who it could be, but I didn’t know so I didn’t want to tell one of them. So I just stacked my money up and I just bought everything when I knew, when I found out what it was, and that’s the last time I did it and I kind of stopped. And I had temptations, you know, I did have temptations, after the baby was born, because I knew one regular trick, you know, that’s the only one I called, you know what I mean? And I called him sometimes ‘cos- it would be for easy money, real quick, but after that I stopped and that’s about it.
When I was a minor, I did get- well I had, one of my friends was staying at my mom’s house but me and my mom didn’t know nothing about it. She went to go do, hit a lick or whatever, went to go hit a lick down the street she got picked up and she said she wanted me to come so I walked down the street and it was the police. But she was a runaway from Duluth so she had to go back and I just got sent home because I was a victim and I was young so. Never got charged though.
[Interviewer asks what would Jessica say to other Native American girls]
Um, that they’re really pretty and they’re really the ones they’re looking for, is the pretty ones. And to be, you know, not get into the life, it’s not good, don’t mess with the bad boys, don’t mess with the ones that you see out here with money and they just flashing it, you know what I mean? Don’t do that, because it’s not going to be a good route for you. And just, you know, stay, stay to the people that been around and love you and care about you because you’re pretty, and you got nice hair, that’s all they look at: your hair and, you know, your body and just, yeah, that’s what they’re looking for. Yeah the bad guys. The bad boys, I mean that’s the ones most people like! You know what I mean? So don’t get into it. Stay to the nerds or something.
I am just a regular person, you know what I mean? I’m not like a prostitute, it was the lifestyle. It was regular, it was nothing different than your regular lifestyle, it was just the lifestyle that I lived and it was normal. And now, I’m a good person and I’m out the life and I’m happy and not doing it or thinking about it, trying to help other people.
Be cautious of some people’s families, just watch out for the people around you. Like even your family, ‘cos your family, you know, a lot of Native Americans are a lot of alcoholics and some people don’t know what they’re giving you, you know, they manipulate your family, you know what I mean? So your family, to look out for them to- just people around you, be cautious.
[Interviewer asks about Pow-Wows as spaces of recruiting Native American women and girls]
Yeah I did hear that too, before. Um, a lot of people go there because they know a lot of Native women is gonna be there, and a lot of pimps do go there, that I’ve heard actually and, um, you’ve just gotta know who you’re around, you know what I mean? And, you know, a lot of pow-wows they get drunk and they don’t know what they’re doing and just to stay, um, alert, yeah, alert, of who you’re around because the pow-wows are sometimes a good place, sometimes not a good place, depends on yourself. Yes, but you can be cautious of the people around you. Especially there too.
Narrative and image provided by FSPA