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OU Women’s, Gender Studies highlights issue of missing, murdered Indigenous women in guest speaker event

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Emily fist

A Native American woman and a fist in honor of Emily Sue Zanne Morgan, a murdered Native American woman from Oklahoma. 

The OU Women’s and Gender Studies Center for Social Justice hosted its third and final event with Activist-in-Residence Sarah Adams-Cornell, focused on searching for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Darcie Parton, who operates Darcie Parton-Scoon Investigations as a private investigator and member of the Caddo Nation, was the key speaker during the event. Parton is a United States Marine Corps veteran who held a job in law enforcement and now continues her work with human trafficking, domestic violence and other sex crimes.

Parton said the continued sexualization of minorities stems from a lack of education surrounding historical issues and event. She said minority families who lacked proper resources to sustain themselves years ago often turned to trafficking themselves or a relative to get by, causing lingering trauma that has yet to be addressed.

“We just have to look at ‘Why are we here at this point? Where we're allowing a family member, or an aunt, or a niece, or nephew or a child to be used and exploited?’” Parton said. “Because this becomes normalized, right? We have been suffering these sexual exploitations since colonial times.”

Recovery is one of the hardest parts of MMIW cases, Parton said. Sometimes, the victim doesn’t want to be found, as they do not realize they’re being sex trafficked, and instead view the exploitation as a means of survival. Parton said victims are often made to take responsibility for the offender’s behavior, instilling fear of getting caught.

“So they're not necessarily happy to see you,” Parton said. “You're kind of a threat to them. You're a threat to what could happen to them.” 

Parton said a key point in recovering a victim of sex trafficking is to immediately document when someone goes missing with law enforcement. She said even though many police forces have been heavily criticized in recent months as a result of the killing of Black Americans by officers, it is still critical to work with them.

“You have to file a police report. You have to be involved with police interactions,” Parton said. “If you're a person who doesn't want to have that interaction, you guys need to get a spokesperson who can do that interaction.”

All missing person reports go into the National Crime Information Center’s system. where DNA, physical description and other important elements to the case are available for law enforcement to look up and compare to recovered people and found bodies.

Another important resource to utilize is the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUs, which is a national clearinghouse for missing and unidentified people, Parton said.

Parton said when filing a police report, describing the situation as clearly as possible is also important. Describing a victim as a potential runaway or possible drug user could cause a lack of urgency among some law enforcement, Parton said. Parton also said to highlight the concerning details of the case from the beginning of an interaction with the police.

“You have to be honest about what's going on, but also don't second-guess,” Parton said. Second-guessing can cause law enforcement to question the severity of the case and become interrogative to the family instead, she said.

Simple things, such as putting up fliers, are great resources to utilize when searching for missing loved ones, Parton said. She said putting up a phone number, an up-close and full-body photo of the victim and sharing digital versions on social media are good tools to use.

Parton said “grid searching”, or dividing an area up into sectors and highlighting popular areas for team searches, is also an important method to use. She said using this method makes it easier to distribute flyers and search for the victim.

Human traffickers utilize social media to recruit victims, Parton said. She said, before victims go missing, they’ll often display signs that they’ve been talking with an offender. These signs include fatigue from staying up late on their devices, a sudden expressed independence due to manipulation, changes in language and receiving nice gifts they otherwise couldn’t afford.

The panel ended with Adams-Cornell thanking those in attendance, and expressing that the fight against MMIW wasn’t over.

Katie Hallum is a journalism and international area studies double major who joined The Daily's news desk in spring 2021. Katie is a Tahlequah, Oklahoma native and citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

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