Last week, the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women and the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention released a report on sex trafficking in Hawai‘i. It’s the second in a series examining sex trafficking within the state, and follows the first, released in September, which revealed an “astronomical” online demand for prostitution in Hawai‘i. The latest report, Sex Trafficking in Hawai‘i: The Stories of Survivors, adds to the troubling body of knowledge and seeks to “build a foundation of knowledge about the sex trafficking experiences among girls and women in Hawai‘i” in order to clarify efforts for change.
“Documenting the narratives of actual victims allows us to deepen our understanding of interlocking systems of oppression and violence within our communities,” the report states. However, research on sex trafficking has been complicated by the hidden nature of the industry and “the secrecy, shame, and stigma associated with disclosing experiences of prostituting.”
Still, researchers were able to interview 22 individuals (15 women identified as being a sex trafficking victim in Hawai‘i and seven as “parents, close family members, or guardians of a child who was a victim of sex trafficking in Hawai‘i”), then used their findings to identify a number of common themes, implications, and potential interventions. The full report remains unreleased as it’s being edited to protect interviewees’ identities, Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women Executive Director Khara Jabola-Carolus told me, but the 13-page executive summary is available online.
In short, the report finds that Hawai‘i’s victims and survivors of sex trafficking come from disruptive childhoods “permeated with sexual abuse, substance/drug and alcohol abuse, and violence.” Many were recruited and groomed while still children (average age 14.7-years-old), mostly by close acquaintances.
The stories of the survivors reveal extreme physical and emotional torture, the effects of which have endured into the victims’ adult lives. Yet, law enforcement has not been effective in keeping victims safe. A number of victims reported that law enforcement officers were unable or unwilling to intervene, and in some cases, cops themselves were sex buyers.
Systems of support including health care professionals and school personnel were also ineffective in many cases, often failing to identify trafficking victims. The limited availability of other services addressing “dating violence, domestic violence, neglect, substance and alcohol abuse, and sexual abuse” further contributed to the cycle of abuse faced by survivors.
Hawai‘i also faces unique challenges. Historically, the report states, human trafficking is intertwined with the commodification of land and bodies in Hawai‘i since the settling of European and American sailors, soldiers, and plantation owners. Geographic isolation has also meant social isolation for victims, worsened by the local value of not bringing shame to the family. This is reflected in the data, which shows overrepresentation of Native Hawaiian women and girls. The pattern can be linked to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, and the resulting “land dispossession, exposure to sexual violence, hypersexualization, incarceration, cultural dislocation, intergenerational trauma, mental and emotional distress, racism, poverty, and ongoing inequities,” the report states.
In the end, the report includes interventions identified by the trafficking survivors, including establishing peer support services, involving religious and cultural leaders to address stigma and other predisposing factors, strengthening the family, increasing training about sex trafficking, providing resources to trafficking victims, funding early intervention services to address risk factors such as substance and alcohol abuse, increasing education for medical and school personnel, enhancing laws, encouraging prosecution of sex buyers and traffickers, and exposing corruption among police and judicial professionals who participate in prostitution and sex trafficking.
The report also identifies two goals for the state legislature: First, institute sexual abuse and trafficking prevention intervention training for students in public schools, starting with funding the Erin’s Law Task Force to recommend an appropriate curricula; second, appropriate funds for a public awareness campaign.
You can report suspected trafficking to the Hawai‘i Department of Human Services Child Trafficking Reporting hotline at (808) 832-1999. “Nearly six attempts on average were needed to exit sex trafficking,” the report states. Supporting victims “will take a special group of people who are well trained, have strong clinical guidance, and believe that this group of victims matter.”
Read the report here: http://humanservices.hawaii.gov/hscsw/
Images courtesy Hawai‘i Department of Human Services, Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women