A study of sex trafficking in Hawai‘i has found that homelessness, drug use, adverse childhood experiences, and a need for money are all linked to sex trafficking victimization in the state. The research, conducted by the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women in partnership with Arizona State University and published last week, collected responses to the Youth Experience Survey (YES) Hawai‘i that were submitted by 363 clients of Child and Family Services statewide from April to June of 2019. All respondents were ages 12 and older.
More than one fourth – 97 individuals – indicated that they had experienced being a victim of sex trafficking, as defined federally as the “recruitment, harboring, transporting, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”
Eighty-three percent of the victims were women, 23 percent were men, one percent was transgender, and another one percent was gender nonconforming. Researchers also found that victims are more likely to be at least part Native Hawaiian. Sixty-four percent of sex trafficked individuals reported being at least part Native Hawaiian, a higher figure than for the respondents as a whole, of which only 46 percent reported being at least part Native Hawaiian.
In addition, the report noted links between sex trafficking victimization and other life experiences, such as homelessness.
Sixty-nine percent of victims reported having experienced homelessness, compared to 45.9 percent of the non-trafficked participants. Victims of sex trafficking also were more likely to have witnessed domestic violence, experienced physical abuse, and been victims of sexual abuse. They were more likely than non-trafficked participants to have higher scores on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale (ACES), which measures childhood exposure to negative experiences such as parental abuse.
“Homelessness and sex trafficking go hand-in-hand. The housing crisis is also a sex trafficking crisis,” said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women. “When describing the reason why they were pushed into selling themselves, sex trafficking victims cited a place to stay and drugs more often than the need for money. No one should be condemned to sexual violence because they cannot access shelter or drug treatment. Hawaiʻi must stop people who choose to exploit the tragedy of homelessness to get sex.”
The study is third in a series of reports on sex trafficking in Hawai‘i and hopes to raise awareness of the issue as well as advance the conversation regarding solutions.
“In the absence of extensive research, there are assumptions and arguments that if sex trafficking does indeed exist in Hawai‘i, victims are being mischaracterized and are in fact there by choice, or are mostly girls from other places,” reads the report. “The findings from this study underscore the need to end this victim blaming perspective, which also relies on racist sexualized stereotypes of Native women and women of color.”
It concludes: “The challenges faced by the sex trafficking victims including mental health, relationship violence, sexual violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness were significantly worse than the those not sex trafficked in this study. This information should be used to encourage the development of new awareness trainings, screening protocols, sex trafficking victim targeted treatments, and social policies that provide funding support and services for adult and child victims of sex trafficking.”
Meanwhile, data from the 2019 Hawai‘i Housing and Planning Study from the state Department of Business Development and Tourism states that on any given night there are 420 sheltered and 442 unsheltered homeless individuals in Maui County. Twenty-four percent of households in the county are “at-risk” of homelessness.
You can find all HSCSW reports on sex trafficking in Hawai‘i at Humanservices.hawaii.gov/hscsw.
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