Maui News

Shocking Reality of Sex Trafficking in Hawaiʻi Revealed in New Study

February 5, 2020, 1:35 PM HST
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Image courtesy of Child and Family Services.

Childhood abuse, as well as serious family and community problems, are key factors of sex trafficking throughout Hawaiʻi, a new study from Child and Family Service explained.

The three-month study, which was released on Tuesday morning, surveyed 363 participants on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi Island, and Molokaʻi who were seeking help from trained social workers or support staff at CFS.

About 1 in 4 of the respondents reported being a victim of sex trafficking. Oʻahu had the highest reporting at 45 percent of the participants, followed by nearly 24 percent on Maui.

The Trafficking Protection Act of 2000 states that sex trafficking occurs “when a commercial sex act is inducted by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Of those identified as sex trafficking survivors, 23 percent reported that they were children when they were first sex trafficked. In addition, 25 percent reported that their first sex trafficker was a family member, either a parent, guardian, sibling, grandfather, or uncle.

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The ages of participants when they were first sex trafficked ranged from four to 55 years old. The average age of first sex trafficking victimization is 21.4 years old. 23 percent of the survivors reported that they were first sex trafficked before they turned 18.

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More than two-thirds of the sex trafficked participants reported having been homeless.

“The data confirms what our community providers have instinctively known – this is a very real problem. This study identifies the volume of sex trafficking in our most vulnerable populations and demonstrates the need to respond to this issue immediately and provide much-needed support to survivors,” CFS president Karen Tan said in a press release.

“It also identifies a huge gap in our ability as a community to identify and prevent sex trafficking crimes. As a state, we can do more to protect our residents.”

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Survey results were submitted to the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR) at Arizona State University for analysis. The goal of the STIR office is to be a central source of research on domestic sex trafficking which will inform the decisions made by those who contact victims and perpetrators of sex trafficking including law enforcement and prosecutors, educators, medical services and social services.

The survey asked questions about the participant’s experiences including abuse, substance use, family connections and dysfunctions, homelessness, health and mental health issues, and their sex and labor exploitation experiences.

CFS has presented the survey findings to Honolulu police and other agencies to initiate dialog on how to address and reduce sex trafficking in Hawaiʻi.

“One child to slip through our system is one child too many,” Department of Human Services Director Pankaj Bhanot stated.

“We want to make sure survivors of sex trafficking have the resources they need to recover, and find safety.  And, we want the community to know there are resources available if they suspect someone is a victim of this crime.  We are here to lend support in whatever way we can.”

If you are a victim of or suspect any sex trafficking activity, call 911 immediately.

To report child trafficking, call the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Human Services Child Trafficking (Child Welfare Services) hotline at (808) 832-1999 (Oʻahu) or 1-888-398-1188 for neighbor islands.

If you believe you have information about a trafficking situation, you can submit an anonymous tip here.

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