In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. The largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, it was conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. Below are excerpts from Alison Kear’s testimony she submitted to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ hearing on human trafficking.
Seven years ago, Anchorage police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned communities about a rise in rural Alaska Native girls and women who leave their families and villages for Anchorage and are then lured into the sex trafficking trade with the promise of security. There seems to be a market for young Alaska Native women who can be trafficked as other ethnicities. This is where I first learned about the severity of the trafficking problem in Alaska. In this presentation, I discovered that the number one spot that young people were being recruited for sex trafficking was, of all places, Covenant House Alaska. When I got over my shock and anger and sadness, I was committed to change that.
Unfortunately, we know Alaska suffers the highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide in the country. The Alaska rape rate is two and a half times the national average. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. And within the foster care system, Alaska Native children are seven times more likely to be in foster care than non-Native children. These are all risk factors that lead to extreme vulnerability and homelessness among Native youth. They are easy targets for sex traffickers who promise these youth security, love, companionship, a warm meal and a bed. These kids don’t have support networks or a community. So if Covenant House doesn’t find them first, who does? Traffickers.
Certainly, one way to help end sex trafficking is to end youth homelessness—the connection between the two is undeniable. And within the Anchorage community, we are coming together to do that. Covenant House Alaska has built strong partnerships with many organizations to help our homeless youth who are vulnerable to trafficking. We partner with Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, First Alaskans Institute and Cook Inlet Housing Authority, who are all working inside our shelter and alongside us to heal the trauma all our at-risk youth have experienced.
We are also working to address the lack of training among health and law professionals so they can more quickly identify victims of sex trafficking. We partner with the Alaska Native Justice Center and the FBI, as well as Priceless, the anti-trafficking organization, and two local domestic violence organizations, STAR and AWAIC. Together, we serve all trafficking victims who walk through our shelter doors.
It’s going to take these kinds of unique partnerships to get a grip on this growing crime of sex trafficking in our state. These children are our children—our community members and the future of our state. We are more determined than ever to end their victimization.
– Alison Kear
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