In this episode of Reawakening the Spirit podcast, host Tyesha Wood discusses federal resources available to Tribal communities for responding to human trafficking with guest Kimberly Woodard, a Senior Tribal Affairs Specialist with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Kimberly shares her insight on Project Beacon, an OVC program committed to increasing the quantity and quality of holistic, victim-centered services available to assist American Indian and Alaska Native victims of sex trafficking in urban areas. They also discuss how to utilize OVC funding for outreach, training, and education on human trafficking and its impact on Tribal communities.
1:00 - Kimberly introduction
1:30 - Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) overview
3:25 - How can Tribal communities’ partner with OVC
5:49 - Project Beacon
6:43 - Human trafficking in Tribal communities
7:55 - Listening to stories about sex trafficking in Tribal communities
10:00 - Urban Indian Health Centers
10:50 - Responding to human trafficking in Tribal communities
13:00 - OVC as a partner in making connections with other Tribal service providers
15:42 - Relationships and human trafficking response
16:33 - Training on human trafficking
18:15 - Collaborative response to human trafficking
21:23 - Outreach and education on human trafficking
23:32 - Closing
Mentioned In This Episode
- Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)
- OVC Discretionary Grant funding
- OVC Formula Grant funding
- Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside program
- Talking Circle: Start, Sustain, or Grow - Using Federal Funding for Victim Services
- Funding Healing: Securing Federal Funds to Support Victims of Crime in their Healing Journey
- Project Beacon
- Urban Indian Organizations
- Sex Trafficking
- Labor Trafficking
- Episode #2 - Reawakening the Spirit: Survivor-Centered Support for Native Victims of Human Trafficking
- Talking Circle: Human Trafficking in Tribal Communities
- Healing Indigenous Lives: Native Youth Responses to Tribal Leaders
- Talking Circle: Safeguarding Our Children from Human Trafficking: Using Culture as A Protective and Healing Influence Among Native Youth
- Project Beacon grantees
- All Nations Health Center (Montana)
- A Comprehensive Services Response to Trafficking Victims
- Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition
- The Garden of Truth Report
- First Nations Community Health Source (New Mexico)
- Sample - Human Trafficking Social Media Posts for Tribal Communities
Contact the Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center at [email protected] or 1-844-682-0411
U.S. Department of Justice Disclaimer. This project was supported by Contract No GS-00F-008DA awarded to Booz Allen Hamilton by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Human trafficking is a difficult and sensitive topic. Throughout the episode we may discuss issues related to human trafficking such as trauma, kidnapping, domestic, dating, and sexual violence, and victimization. Opinions and points of view expressed in this podcast are those of the presenters and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Department of Justice. As you listen to this conversation, the Human Trafficking Capacity Building Center encourages you to take time for your own well-being and care. Please do not hesitate to take a break from listening. If you need support or to talk with someone, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. We hope you find the podcast informative and helpful.
Welcome to the Reawakening the Spirit Podcast, a safe space to have real discussions about human trafficking in Tribal communities. My name is Tyesha Wood and I will be your host for Reawakening the Spirit. I am a member of the Navajo Nation. (Speaks in Native language). Thank you for joining us.
My guest today is Kimberly Woodard. She's a senior Tribal affairs specialist with the Office for Victims of Crime at the US Department of Justice. Hello, Kimberly. Welcome.
Hi, I'm happy to be here.
We are so thrilled that you have time to meet with us, and we are going to talk about resources today. And before we get started on that, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about the work that you're doing. How did you get involved in violence against women work?
Well, my work on violence against women includes time spent as an advocate, an attorney administering federal grant programs and creating policy at the federal level, and my work also as a licensed mental health professional. So during the almost 20 years that I've spent working in violence against Native women, I've had the privilege of traveling extensively throughout Indian Country.
So, can you help our listeners understand exactly what OVC, the Office of Victims of Crime does?
The OVC was created in 1988 as part of the Federal Victims of Crime Act, and the purpose of OVC is to administer the Federal Crime Victims Fund. The fund, which was also established by VOCA, is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders. It's not coming from tax dollars. So as of January 1st of this year, the balance of the fund was just over $2.8 billion. Each fiscal year, OVC uses receipts or money from the fund to support a wide range of grant programs. So, we support a state formula and crime compensation program. We offer dozens of discretionary grant award programs designed to increase and improve services to crime victims. We also support training and technical assistance initiatives. And OVC receives the largest federal share of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act grant funds. And we also have funding to support victims of mass violence and terrorism.
Thank you for sharing that, Kimberly. That's all good information. Very vital to the work that you're doing, the work that we support at the Center. And what I especially like is you explaining where that money comes from, because sometimes that's the question is where, is this taxpayers' dollars? Or just again, the origin of the how programs are funded. But you also listed several different programs, and a lot of those programs people don't know about, and Tribal communities don't know there are resources available, right? So, can you tell us a little bit more about how Tribal communities or Tribal organizations can partner with OVC to establish or continue services for their victims of crime?
As I mentioned, OVC administers dozens of discretionary grant programs each year, and Tribes are most often eligible for most of those programs. And the focus can vary from year to year. So, in the past, we've funded grants to support communities, including Tribal communities who are providing services to children who have been victims of the opioid crisis. We've provided funding for law enforcement agencies, including Tribal law enforcement agencies, to develop programs to have victim advocates on staff to work with crime victims who are seeking help from law enforcement agencies. But each year, OVC also administers two award programs that are specifically for Tribal governments. That's our Tribal Children's Justice Act, which is part of the Department of Justice's coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation or CTAS as people commonly know it. We also have the Tribal Victim Services Set Aside program.
The Tribal Set Aside program is a relatively new program. It replaced OVC's Comprehensive Tribal Victim Assistance Program in fiscal year (FY) 2018. So, starting in FY 18, Congress created a set aside in OVC's annual CVF receipts. And for the last four fiscal years, we've been directed to set aside between three to 5 percent of those funds to administer our grant programs specifically for federally recognized Tribes. In just the last two federal fiscal years alone, we've made 275 awards total more than $215 million to a combination of federally recognized Tribes, Tribal consortia, and organizations who are acting as the authorized designee of federally recognized Tribes. So, since the program's inception, OVC has awarded more than $400 million in set aside funds combined, and our program impacts the vast majority of Tribes in the United States. That's in the lower 48 and Alaska as well.
It is so good to hear that Tribal communities across the country are connecting with OVC, and they're receiving support for their victim services. What are some of these programs?
OVC has also administered Project Beacon, which is a program unique among federal grant offerings because of its focus on urban Native populations. The purpose of Project Beacon is to increase the quantity and quality of services that are available to American Indian and Alaska Native victims of human trafficking who reside in urban areas. The funding is awarded to urban Indian organizations to develop their capacity to provide comprehensive services to Native victims of sex and labor trafficking by developing specialized programming and creating strategic partnerships with other key community stakeholders.
Many American Indians and Alaskan Natives live in urban communities, so it's great to hear and to share with our listeners so that they know for themselves, as well as their children and their grandchildren, of course their nieces and nephews who live in the urban communities, that there are places to go for culturally appropriate services. Kimberly, can you talk to me a little bit more about human trafficking? What does it look like in Tribal communities?
So, as we all know, there's very little research available on how human trafficking impacts Native populations. But I created Project Beacon in 2016 as a means of addressing an observed phenomena, Native women and girls who have relocated to urban areas and become victims of sex trafficking. So, as I mentioned earlier, I have traveled very extensively throughout Indian Country. And whenever I go out, I like to collect stories about what communities are witnessing.
So, Kimberly, what were these observations that created Project Beacon? What exactly were you hearing from Tribal communities?
One story that comes most immediately to mind is a visit I made several years ago to a Tribal program in California. And while I was there, I was speaking with their leadership and with their program staff about how sex trafficking was impacting the Tribal communities that they serve. They shared with me that they had recently witnessed an uptick in the number of Native children who had been born to members of the communities who had moved to the nearby major city.
At some point, the young people had been removed from their parents' custody and placed into the State foster care system. While they were in the system, they had become the victims of sex trafficking. Once they aged out of the system and had nowhere to go, and no means of support, they returned to the communities that their parents had left. They had no sense of connection or identity once they returned and were really struggling to cope with all the trauma that they had experienced, both through their experiences with the foster care system and with the experience of having been trafficked. And the program was really struggling to figure out how to meet their needs.
This is so difficult. And to find out that these children experiencing the trauma from sex trafficking as well as losing their culture, their heritage, and their sense of belonging to their Tribal communities. Can you tell me more?
The thought of people being cut off from their culture, from their homes and identities brought to mind for me the idea of being able to offer them a beacon, a signal to lead them to help, and hope and connection.
I absolutely love that imagery of light searching for those in need. These Project Beacon programs are located in urban Indian organizations across the country. Tell me how that connection was made to have them shine this light.
And who better to offer that beacon than urban Indian organizations? They exist to provide community to Native people who were relocated to urban population centers during the termination era. And they have a very long history of creating programs to meet the health, safety and general welfare needs of the communities they serve. Right now, Project Beacon Funds five urban Indian health centers in San Francisco, Missoula, Montana, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Omaha, Nebraska.
These Project Beacon programs are lifelines. I interviewed Shayla from Missoula, Montana, and she shared a story of how they were able to be there for two Native youth, a male and female fleeing a human trafficking situation. Project Beacon's knowledge of human trafficking and ability to offer services for these survivors was so inspiring to hear. Tell me about your role in this story, in offering federal support.
Project Beacon is a program that's very near and dear to me, and I've been very hands on with the program since its inception, and I have a good working relationship with all of the current grantees. Last year for example, I received a phone call from All Nations Health Center, that's our Project Beacon Grantee in Missoula, Montana. The program had received a referral for a Native female sex trafficking victim who had walked into a healthcare clinic in another part of the state, and the clinic staff had identified her as a victim of sex trafficking. Because All Nations had done such a great job with outreach, the clinic was aware of their Project Beacon program and was able to make a referral to them.
The staff in Missoula spoke with the female victim and agreed to travel to pick her up. But when they arrived, they also picked up her friend who was a Native male victim of trafficking. So all of this was happening of course during the pandemic, so they encountered a very difficult time in finding emergency shelter for both victims. And I was able to work with them to adjust their award to help pay for the cost of a motel stay. Both victims were detoxing from substance abuse, and so having worked with individuals who are experiencing addiction, I was able to draw on that experience to help encourage the Project Beacon staff in Missoula to coordinate with their medical staff on getting the victims some medical assistance to help with the detox process.
Flexibility is so important as each individual is unique. Knowing that the Office for Victims of Crime is a partner in this response, you mentioned adjusting the funding allocations to pay for services and working with All Nations to make these connections during a pandemic. Just want to emphasize the flexibility and how OVC really is a listening partner as Tribal communities offer this healing support.
Once the victims had articulated a desire to go to inpatient treatment for substance abuse, the Project Beacon staff in Missoula was able to contact our Project Beacon grantee in the Bay area of California, Friendship House. And so Friendship House agreed to hold bed space for both victims in their rehab facility, just contingent upon them being able to get out there and take advantage of that opportunity. Again, I worked with the staff in Missoula to help make the adjustments to their budget to cover the costs as quickly as possible. The next big hurdle was just getting them out to California, because the trafficker was holding their picture ID. And of course, you can't board a commercial flight in the US without a picture ID.
Taking official identification is common in trafficking situations as traffickers use it to keep control. How did you tackle this challenge?
I worked with the staff in Missoula. They got authorization from the two victims to talk to me, and to talk to others about how to help them with this problem. She told me the Tribes that both victims were affiliated with, and I realized right away that both Tribes had funding from OVC, and that I had previously worked with the directors of both of those programs. So I individually reached out to both program directors, I let them know that one of my Project Beacon grantees had encountered a victim who was affiliated with their Tribe and that the victims were in need of assistance in expediting the receipt of a CDIB card so they could escape a violent situation. Both of the directors were eager to help, and I was able to put them in contact with the staff at Project Beacon in Missoula, and they coordinated with others on their end to help expedite the requests for the cards.
Relationships are so critical to this work.
Ultimately though, the relationships that the Missoula Project Beacon program had developed through their community partnerships paid off in a very big way. They were able to arrange a free private flight from Missoula to San Francisco through their local ties.
This gives me chills. So often the weight of this work falls on those victim advocates operating these programs in their Tribal communities in urban areas. Here is an example emphasizing how local donations and connections make a difference. All of us have something to give, even local contributions make a big difference too. We talked earlier about human trafficking and how there isn't a whole lot of data around it in Tribal communities and how it can be difficult to spot. How can Tribes or Tribal programs learn more about it? What resources are there?
We have a very capable, knowledgeable and highly skilled training and technical assistance provider for the Project Beacon grantees. I do want to acknowledge that. And that's the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition. In this instance, I did a lot of hands on work with the grantee, but I definitely appreciate all of the hard work that the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition has put into helping OVC develop Project Beacon. They've been there from the start.
Their staff is incredible. They're very dedicated, dynamic and just absolutely resourceful and embedded. And most likely, they have also the most comprehensive understanding of what trafficking in Indian Country looks like. Not just through their work on Project Beacon, but also because of their work on sex trafficking for OVW, and the role that their executive director in particular played in being one of the principal authors on one of the most insightful research studies on sex trafficking and how it impacts Native communities. And that's the Garden of Truth report that was published a little more than a decade ago.
Yes, I'm familiar with that report. There was so much in that content you provided and the story itself, I feel Kimberly, the story itself exemplifies the spirit of Project Beacon, and that's amazing. You had a collaborative response; you had those skilled and experienced support services available. Are there other examples of how a federal partner can help a Tribal community?
At the Department of Justice, we've been very focused on human trafficking in general. Like I said, we have several programs we administer at OVC that are specific to human trafficking, and they create opportunities for programs who are funded under other OVC grant programs to expand their resources. So, for example, one of my project Beacon grantees, First Nations Community Health Source in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been able to tap into other funding from OVC that's been designated to help communities address human trafficking. And with that funding, they've been able to expand their services greatly. They were one of our original Project Beacon grantees in FY 2016.
When they came on board, I was able to help facilitate introductions between them and other key players in New Mexico. And just through a couple of introductions, they were welcomed to a seat at the table, and almost immediately became a very integral part of the effort in New Mexico to address trafficking in Native communities. And so, they have done a lot of work with the Tribes around New Mexico doing outreach, doing training, educating people about the history of trafficking, particularly in New Mexico, and how it's affected the Tribal communities there. And by being able to bring in historical context, for example, they were able to educate people in New Mexico about the fact that labor trafficking is not something new for Indian Country. And were able to put it into a language that people could understand, and that tied it into the history of Tribes in New Mexico.
Being able to help people understand that what they already know is consistent with the language that we're using to describe it today. So, people may have been aware of that historical context, but may not have been able to label it as labor trafficking until the folks from First Nations did their education efforts and help them to understand that this is not new, it has been ongoing. And the same is true with sex trafficking. So they have done a lot of work partnering with the Albuquerque Police Department, and doing street outreach to victims. Their outreach numbers have been in the thousands, because they target a lot of the events that draw a huge Native crowd to the Albuquerque area. They just have done a phenomenal job of creating partnerships, creating opportunities, and just really, like I said, taking advantage of those initial introductions and establishing a program that's really thriving.
Kimberly, another great story, another great explanation of work... I want to say work in the front lines. It's developing those programs, seeing how perhaps there was that gap in what you described, not really identifying what we're seeing as a problem or a continuous problem that's been there. And it's just that lack of understanding and awareness. But Kimberly, just a great story again, on the work that OVC is promoting and adapting for Tribal nations to empower themselves to find those resources. It was such a great conversation that we had. You've provided so many good stories. Thank you for all that you're doing for Indian Country and being that listening ear that sometimes we just need. Before we end, I wanted to ask you, Kimberly, you've said so much today. What is one takeaway that you want from this conversation our listeners to understand?
It's hard to name just one thing, but the most important thing I want them to understand is that OVC is listening. We are trying our best to be responsive and we are open to hearing from the field, from Tribal leadership about what their needs are. And for them, letting us know what we're doing well and what we're not doing well. And just that there are resources available to communities and organizations that are looking to get involved with trafficking work and get involved with work on ending violence against women in general. Definitely take a look at what OVC has to offer.
Definitely will, thank you for all the information that you shared today, the resources, the descriptions and the explanations on so many things that we hear every day that we don't know. I especially enjoyed hearing the story of how Project Beacon began. So again, thank you for being that beacon for us. Kimberly, amazing time today. Thank you to you and your staff, and I appreciate you sharing your time with us. This is Reawakening, where we share our stories, and we have those hard conversations that we can help our communities heal. Thank you again for your time, Kimberly. Please be safe and take care.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.