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Pandemic may be concealing sexual trafficking cases in Hawaii – Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii 2020-10-17 06:47:27 –

A report called “Sex Trafficking in Hawaii” examines the extent and complexity of problems for which data are difficult to collect.

The findings of the report are quite disturbing, but they were done before the pandemic. Those who support local survivors of sexual trafficking fear that the pandemic may be hiding further cases of exploitation.

Joey Keahiolalo, chief program officer and one of the authors of the study at Child & Family Service, a local social welfare nonprofit, is concerned that pandemic restrictions hide trafficking cases.

“The school doesn’t monitor or report too much because of the stay-at-home environment,” she says. Therefore, it becomes difficult to detect the danger signal.

“When the school returns to the session, I think it will be flooded with referrals.”

97 survivors surveyed

The study was a joint effort by Arizona State University, Child & Family Services, and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in Hawaii.

As part of the report, people over the age of 12 serviced by Child & Family Services were invited to participate, with 363 volunteers covering all Hawaiian Islands except Niihau and Lanai. Minors required parental or guardian consent and all were granted anonymity.

The survey identified 97 survivors of sexual trafficking. This is 27% of the survey participants. Of those 97 survivors:

  • 64% are Native Hawaiians or some Native Hawaiians.
  • A quarter of the survivors said they were first trafficked before the age of 18. The average age of the first trafficking in the group was 11 years. This is considerably younger than the national average of 14 years old.

  • Seventy-five percent of the victims were identified as female, 23% male, 1% transgender, and 1% non-conforming.

  • Of all survivors, 27% were forced or forced to exchange sex for drugs. 25% in exchange for money; 25% in exchange for a place of stay.

  • Twenty-six percent reported their families as sexual traffickers. 25% reported friends. 25% reported boyfriend.

  • 18% reported that technology or social media was involved in sexual trafficking.

  • 69% experienced homelessness.

  • Sixty-six percent of all survivors reported having experienced four or more childhood disadvantages. These experiences include physical or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, time in the case of caregivers, and runaway. Click here to download the report.

Pandemic impact

The survey is based on a total of 363 respondents and a small sample of 97 people who reported being trafficked. We have investigated only those who are already known to Child & Family Services, but the true scope of the problem is unknown as exploitation is often done in private places or online.

The study defines trafficking as “a crime that forces, forces, or seduces people to provide labor or exchange sex with something of value.” This is the third study in Hawaii on this issue.

Released in January 2020, before the pandemic.Child & Family Service Care Hioraro and others Hawaii Business Magazine We believe it is time to strengthen support and services for prevention rather than intervention during the pandemic. “Arrive at them,” says Keahiolalo, before exploitation occurs.

She states that for both young and adult survivors, leaving the trafficking situation can be more difficult in a home environment. With less interaction with the outside world in life, survivors are even less likely to see people they feel trustworthy to help them escape.

Abuses often quarantine victims even under normal circumstances. The pandemic makes it even less likely that the community will identify people in need, says Keahiolalo.

Increased call for crisis

Jessica Munoz is the founder and president of Ho’ōla Nā Pua, a local non-profit organization dedicated to preventing sexual trafficking and helping its survivors. She says the quarantine and increased time spent on the Internet as a result of a pandemic can harm survivors of sex trafficking and endanger other vulnerable people. In fact, the National Trafficking Hotline reports a 300% increase in critical calls due to Internet risks.

“Traffkers don’t care about COVID. (They) have an audience captured with their children online,” Munoz said.

She adds that the financial challenges of people due to pandemics make people desperate to achieve their goals, which makes them easier to exploit.

“Being at home doesn’t mean it’s safe,” says Munoz.

Farshad Talebi is a state trafficking coordinator and recently created position by Hawaii Attorney General Claire Connors in response to the recommendations of the report. Talebi says that people often need to be able to financially support themselves in order to leave the abusive situation forever. This usually means a stable job and can be difficult to obtain during this recession.

Tammy, an advocate and outreach coordinator for Ho’ōla Nā Pua, asked her to be identified by her name alone, as anonymity is required to protect the confidentiality of the patient. She states that survivors are currently facing additional difficulties in accessing face-to-face therapy, the court system, and other resources.

According to Tammy, trafficking proceedings have been protracted, which is dangerous to survivors. This is partly due to the time it takes to curb the submission of orders. And delays add financial stress to survivors.

Talebi adds that law enforcement investigations have been significantly delayed by COVID-19.

What should I do

This study encourages you to use the findings to develop more informed Hawaii-based initiatives. Other recommendations include “victim-centric, trauma-based” awareness training, clinical interventions, sex trafficking-specific programs for adults and schools, and “sex trafficking adult and child victims.” Includes “Public Policy to Provide Financial Assistance and Services”. “

Talebi also states that a strategic shift can help. “We need systematic change through more adjustments,” he says. He plans to “complement law enforcement by (expanding coordination) with social welfare providers and other state sectors.” Talebi will emphasize awareness and deterrence over law enforcement. “You can’t always block the way out of it,” he says.

Defenders of exploitation survivors also focus on prevention and say a better general understanding of who is vulnerable will help.

Munoz says he knows that pandemics are creating a lot of needs, but especially emphasizes the vulnerabilities of trafficking victims.

“Our work is essential … it’s life or death for them. It’s not a retrofit,” she says.


Need help?
  • The state’s Child Trafficking Hotline is (808) 832-1999 (Oahu) or (888) 398-1188 (neighboring islands).
  • Call National Trafficking Hotline (888) At 373-7888.
  • Or phone / text message Hoʻolā Nā Pua helpline (808) At 435-9555. HoʻolāNāPua can provide support and care coordination and make referrals. For more information, please visit www.hoolanapua.org.



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