The Missoula Urban Indian Health Center has won a highly-competitive $450,000 federal grant to address human and sex trafficking among American Indians living in Missoula County.
“There were only seven organizations awarded nationally,” explained D'Shane Barnett, the executive director of the Center. “To be honest, we didn’t think we’d get it.”
The money comes from the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. It will fund a new endeavor called the Missoula Beacon, which is a three-year project aimed at enhancing the quality and quantity of services available to assist urban American Indian and Alaska Native survivors of sex trafficking. The Missoula Urban Indian Health Center will work in partnership with multiple support service organizations in Missoula by creating a network of providers and services that are specific toward Native people and are trauma-informed.
Native women and girls make up just 3.3% of the Montana population yet they account for 30-40% of human and sex trafficking victims in the state, Barnett said, citing U.S. Department of Justice statistics. A 2017 report from the U.S. Government Office of Accountability found that many tribal law enforcement agencies indicated they believe victims are reluctant to participate in investigations for reasons including drug addiction and distrust of law enforcement.
"There’s been a lot of attention put forward to missing and murdered indigenous women lately,” Barnett said. “What we want to do is stem the tide. We’re trying to keep women from ever getting in that position in the first place."
Women who are being trafficked go to grocery stores, doctors and hotels all the time, he said, and the goal is to get people who work in those places trained to recognize victims.
"We want to get people trained to identify them and help them before they become missing and murdered," Barnett said. "That’s our goal.”
In the first year, the money will go toward planning and building a network of partner organizations.
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“The second and third year are about actually delivering,” Barnett said.
They’ll work with the Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force and other organizations to provide people who might come across trafficking victims with training on identifying those people and helping them on the spot. The second goal is to provide services to women who have been identified as victims of trafficking.
Kat Werner, the chair of the Missoula Human Trafficking Task Force, and Missoula police detective Guy Baker told the Missoulian earlier this year that money drives people to traffic other humans.
"If there's a demand for prostitution, there's going to be a supply by people who exploit women,” Baker said, noting he’s investigated roughly 10 cases a year for each of the last five years.
Skye McGinty, the development and communications coordinator for the Urban Indian Health Center, said the grant will help lots of agencies in Missoula.
“We hope that we’ll be able to do some trainings for law enforcement through the grant,” she said.
She and Barnett say the money will allow the center to build stronger outreach, training and peer support mechanisms in the county. They also hope to increase the number of service organizations that are capable of providing culturally-specific care to Native people who have survived a sex trafficking experience. The money will allow the center to develop case management services, educate the Missoula community and create a “sustainable safety net of support services.”