Last week the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and the Arizona State University Sex Trafficking Intervention Office published a report on sex trafficking in Hawaii. This is 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 Hawaii. The last report, Sex Trafficking in Hawaii: The Stories of Survivors, adds to the disturbing body of knowledge and seeks to “build a knowledge base on experiences of sex trafficking among girls and women in Hawaii” to clarify change efforts.
“Documenting the stories of actual victims allows us to deepen our understanding of the intertwined systems of oppression and violence within our communities,” the report said. However, sex trafficking research has been complicated by the hidden nature of the industry and “the secrecy, shame and stigma associated with disclosing prostitution experiences”.
Yet the researchers were able to interview 22 people (15 women identified as being a victim of sex trafficking in Hawaii and seven as “parents, close family members or guardians of a child who has been sexually trafficked in Hawaii.” ), then used their findings to identify a number of common themes, implications and potential interventions. The full report remains unpublished as it is being modified to protect the identity of the respondents, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women Executive Director Khara Jabola-Carolus told me, but the 13-page summary is available online.
In short, the report finds that victims and survivors of sex trafficking in Hawaii come from a disruptive childhood “steeped in sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, and violence.” Many were recruited and cared for when they were still children (average age 14.7 years), mainly by close acquaintances.
The stories of the survivors reveal extreme physical and emotional torture, the effects of which are lost in the adult lives of the victims. Yet law enforcement has not been effective in ensuring the safety of victims. A number of victims reported that law enforcement officers were unable or unwilling to intervene, and in some cases the cops themselves were buyers of sex.
Support systems comprising health professionals and school staff have also proved ineffective in many cases, often failing to identify victims of trafficking. The limited availability of other services dealing with “dating violence, domestic violence, neglect, substance and alcohol abuse, and sexual abuse” further contributed to the cycle of abuse of survivors.
Hawai’i also faces unique challenges. Historically, the report says, human trafficking has been closely linked to the commodification of land and bodies in Hawaii since the installation of European and American sailors, soldiers and plantation owners. Geographical isolation has also meant the social isolation of the victims, compounded by the local value of not shaming the family. This is reflected in the data, which shows an over-representation of Indigenous Hawaiian women and girls. The model can be related to the reversal of the Kingdom of Hawaiiand “land dispossession, exposure to sexual violence, hypersexualization, incarceration, cultural dislocation, intergenerational trauma, mental and emotional distress, racism, poverty and persistent inequalities,” the report.
Ultimately, the report includes interventions identified by survivors of trafficking, including the creation of peer support services, involvement of religious and cultural leaders to address stigma and other predisposing factors, strengthening family, increasing training on sex trafficking, providing resources to victims of trafficking, funding early intervention services to address risk factors such as substance and alcohol abuse , increase the education of medical and school personnel, improve laws, encourage prosecution of sex buyers and traffickers, and denounce corruption among police and legal professionals involved in prostitution and sex trafficking.
The report also identifies two goals for the state legislature: First, to institute intervention training in the prevention of sexual abuse and trafficking in public school students, starting with funding for the Erin’s Law Working Group recommend an appropriate course of study; second, adequate funds for a public awareness campaign.
You can report suspicious traffic to Hawai’i Department of Human Services Child Trafficking Reporting hotline at (808) 832-1999. “Almost six attempts on average were needed to get out of sex trafficking,” the report said. Supporting victims “will require a special group of people who are well trained, have sound clinical advice and believe that this group of victims is important.”
Read the report here: http://humanservices.hawaii.gov/hscsw/
Images courtesy of the Hawaii Department of Human Services, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women