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Hawaii Hot Spot for Human Trafficking

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - Hawaii is a hot spot for sex and labor trafficking. So much so, that when Google.org awarded a sizable grant to the Polaris Project and International Justice Mission last year to work on the ground in 5 key states to help establish stronger laws against trafficking, the alliance chose Hawaii as the first stop.

Representatives from these groups who have dedicated $1.8 million to Hawaii's campaign, have joined Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and Reps. Karen Awana and John Mizuno to push for six new bills they say would help "identify, protect, and offer assistance to victims of human trafficking."

They were at the capitol yesterday, reviewing the need for the proposed measures for 2012, which include:

  • "Safe Harbor Bill that allows for a mandatory referral of child victims to a licensed and trained child service provider.
  • "Vacating Convictions bill would enable sex-trafficking victims to file a motion to vacate all prostitution charges from their criminal records while they were held in captivity, illegally.
  • "Education and awareness would provide greater education to the public and youth of Hawaii on human trafficking and prevention.
  • "Victim Services State plan for human trafficking victims service would be created to address the needs of rehabilitating human trafficking victims.
  • "And a Steering Committee on Human Trafficking Measure would be formed to review and recommend public policy and a state plan for human trafficking victim services."
  • There also would be a mandatory reporting bill for medical professionals who encounter a trafficking victim.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline that connects trafficking victims to services they require, has received an estimated 164 calls since December 2007 related to human trafficking in Hawaii. The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery has documented many more.

Rep. Awana, who appeared at a press conference on the issue on Thursday, said it is important for lawmakers to address the issue and support activists trying to stop human trafficking. She called it “the worst form of treatment inflicted upon another human being.” Awana and Mizuno are asking other lawmakers in the House and Senate to support these measures and are optimistic they will pass. They already have received positive feedback from the respective committee chairs the bills have been assigned to.

James Dold, Policy Counsel for the Washington D.C.-based Polaris Project, works in all 50 states to strengthen anti trafficking laws. He said yesterday he has seen "first-hand how laws like these make a real difference for the lives of women and children who have been brutally exploited for the profit of others."

He added: “If all of these bills pass, Hawaii would have one of the strongest anti-human trafficking frameworks in the United States.”

With the help of the Polaris Project, Kathryn Xian and her non-profit organization, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, successfully lobbied for the first anti-human trafficking laws in Hawaii, including HB141 related to labor-trafficking and HB240 related to prostitution. These became Act 145 and Act 146 in 2011.  The passage of these bills meant Hawaii was no longer one of just 5 states without any anti-trafficking laws.

Hawaii is first on the list, Dold said, not only because Hawaii has a trafficking problem, but there are activists on the ground willing to do what it takes to combat human trafficking and state lawmakers are open to making changes.

He said Illinois, Texas and New York are leaders in this effort, Virginia has seen tremendous improvement in the last year in terms of its legislation and legal tactics to combat various forms of slavery, and he is optimistic Hawaii will continue to strengthen its laws.

Hawaii Reporter has uncovered a number of stories about workers from Asia, mainly Laos and Thailand, trafficked to Hawaii to work on local farms. See the most recent series here:

Scammed In Laos, Trapped in America

After Oahu Farm Workers Fall Ill, State Inspectors Look Into Workers’ Safety, Food Security 

Special Investigation: Laotian Workers Suffer Health and Financial Problems on Oahu Farms

 

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