TARGETS: Young girls are trafficked as sex workers in Hawaii
Young girls are trafficked as sex workers in Hawaii. They are often 13 years old or younger when they are recruited.

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – When Dee Dee was just 16 years old, a pimp forced her to work on the streets of Chinatown and Waikiki as a prostitute. She remembers the first time she was forced to have sex for money, and how scared and humiliated she felt.

After being beaten and raped repeatedly and threatened by her pimp during her “breaking in period ,” she saw no way to escape.

“I did it because my pimp was threatening to kill my family. Because he found out where my family lived. He threatened to kill them or to kill me. So I did it because I was scared. It was mostly out of fear,” Dee Dee told Hawaii Reporter in an exclusive interview about her experiences.

Dee Dee essentially worked as a sex slave. Keeping any of the money she made – even $2 to buy French Fries after working all night – could earn her a severe beating.

“There were consequences all the time,” she said.

And there was no way to hide because  “there was always eyes” on her when she worked on “the track” in Waikiki.

“We called it the gang. Cause there was always the ‘old G’ at the top. Original Gangster, the original pimp, the top guy, he’s the king. … and if my pimp was not there, somebody else would tell him. There were always eyes on me even when I thought the street was empty,” Dee Dee said.

There were other young girls from Hawaii in the same situation. They are forced to take drugs and then controlled by their addictions.

“If you say ‘I don’t touch drugs, I hate those, they are gross,’ the pimp will hold you down and shoot you up. …A lot of times I would see pimps control girls just because of the drugs,” Dee Dee said.

Dee Dee finally escaped, but only because she was picked up by law enforcement after being misidentified as a runaway youth and not a sex trafficking victim. Her parents met her at the police station.

Kathryn Xian, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery

Coming back from the lowest point in her life, she had many emotional, physical and spiritual wounds to heal.

She was put into rehabilitation. But the road to recovery was long and difficult. Having a tough time dealing with terrible flashbacks and severe depression, she tried to kill herself by overdosing on pills.

Kathryn Xian, head of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, rescues girls like Dee Dee who are victims of sex trafficking and assists law enforcement to get the pimps prosecuted.

The City & County of Honolulu’s EMS department contacted Xian to ask her to teach paramedics how to identify trafficking victims, how to talk to them in language they will understand, how to keep them out of danger while they are being treated, and ensure they get the help they need.

Honolulu’s emergency responders, especially those who work the over night shift, encounter girls like Dee Dee after they are beaten by their pimps or when they are strung out on drugs and left in the streets in a bad state.

“We started training all the paramedics on island at the end of June at the request of their Supervisors. It took about two months and we trained over 160 of them in indentifying the problem, who may be at risk, identifying the signs, and what to do if they encounter a victim– what to do, what not to do (best practices). We also gave them resources to call for help such as the national hotline number and our local hotline at PASS. We aim to train all health care professionals on island so that they may develop a protocol for responding to these victims. We also covered signs to id labor trafficking victims,” Xian said.

Dr. James Ireland, director of Honolulu’s Department of Emergency Services, said city paramedics save lives daily, but this is an opportunity to save lives in a different way.

“All the credit goes to our EMS Chief Patty Dukes (she is currently on the Mainland at an EMS meeting).  She went to a lunch conference and learned about this issue, and brought the PASS team back to our Department to educate our EMS personnel,” Ireland said.

It makes perfect sense to have the City EMS paramedics educated and helping to “combat this horrendous problem,” he said.

“First of all, the paramedics know the streets well.  Second, their profession is one that is giving; and taking care of others is part of what they do everyday.  Lastly, the back of an ambulance provides a private and secure place to have a heartfelt talk with patients, whatever their problems may be,” Ireland said. “It is during this paramedic-patient interaction, we hope to offer the resources  available in the community for individuals that may be affected by trafficking.  Once at the Emergency Room, it is our hope that they will be able to reach out and get assistance.”

Next steps for PASS will be to coordinate protocols between hospital Emergency Rooms and the paramedics themselves, Xian said, as well as more training for psychiatrists and med students. Her group also trained JABSOM medical students a few months ago as well as residents at Kapiolani Medical Center.

The PASS training program runs about 90 minutes and has already saved at least one young woman. Just last Monday, a woman deemed “high risk” because she was homeless after being abandoned by her family two weeks earlier, was beaten, struck in the face, robbed and left lying on the street.

An EMS paramedic who took the training class called the PASS Hotline to get help for the victim when the she would not accept assistance from first responders. Xian happened to be on call.

The EMS paramedic we spoke to who did not want to be named said she is grateful for the training that helps identify those who might be in trouble, and gives the “town” paramedics the tools they need to reach out to trafficking victims. She believes the training will help save more children.

Dee Dee said she was lucky to get out alive. “The longer you stay and the less hope you have,” she said.

Jana, another young sex trafficking victim we interviewed who also worked the streets of Waikiki, Chinatown and at Rappongi Relaxation in 350 Ward Avenue, agreed Hawaii’s streets are a “very dangerous place to be” … and “scary too.” She was also rescued by law enforcement.

“Cause if you stay in the game, you will never come home. Unless somebody comes and rescues you … like the the cops, or somebody,” Jana said.

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com