BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – A 16-year-old Hawaii girl and her mother met with lawmakers at the Hawaii state Capitol yesterday in a special hearing on human trafficking to offer details about the girl’s experiences as a sex trafficking victim in Hawaii.

Asking for the media to keep their names and images out of the news, the mother and daughter shared their horrifying story that started just 9 months ago when the girl’s cousin introduced her to a “Big John” that kidnapped her and held her against her will, beat and raped her repeatedly into submission, got her hooked on drugs and alcohol and then forced her into prostitution.

The terrifying experience lasted four months before she escaped. The girl did not run away because her captors told her they knew where she lived and would go after her family in retaliation.

The mother and stepfather, who are military personnel stationed here, believed their daughter was a runaway. They were able to bring her home after their daughter’s second arrest on prostitution charges. Before that, the girl, who had been broken physically, mentally and spiritually by her captors, was terrified to leave her abusers.

“This is the one moment as a mom that I can try to make a positive difference for everyone else’s little girls and boys. I need you to know it is so real. When you walk through Waikiki, it is beautiful, a paradise, but that is where my little girl walked the streets as a slave,” the mother told lawmakers.

The girl continues to experience both physical and mental trauma, and has seen little improvement after several weeks of treatment for substance abuse and emotional trauma. Fighting tears, the high school student told graphic stories about her abuse, torture and forced labor. She said about 30 percent of the girls she met on the street were from Hawaii, averaging between 15 and 16 years old. The others are primarily the same age, brought here from mainland states and foreign countries. The children recruited here were recruited from local shopping malls and school campuses. Many young boys are also recruited, she said.

During their testimony before a packed room, lawmakers, law enforcement, trafficking experts and other victims sat quietly to listen to the story. Other victims and experts who work with victims also stepped forward to share similar experiences.

Kathryn Xian from the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery opened the briefing by introducing a package of bills to lawmakers, seven total, that she says will help thwart human trafficking in Hawaii. She also focused the discussion on child labor, sex slavery, forced labor, barriers to combating human trafficking and solutions and policy changes to better address human trafficking.

The Proposed Measures for 2012 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.

Xian’s non-profit organization successfully lobbied for the first anti-human trafficking laws in Hawaii, including HB141 re: labor-trafficking and HB240 re: promoting prostitution law reform, which became Act 145 and Act 146 in 2011.  Xian maintains what many experts say: Hawaii is driven by a tourist-based economy which attracts sex-traffickers looking to establish territory to capitalize on the market of male travelers and transient military personnel.”

Xian said human trafficking is the “2nd highest lucrative criminal activity in the world, surpassing illegal arms dealing and second only to international drug trafficking.”

Even though passing laws to address Human-Trafficking have been realized in the state of Hawaii, the battle has just begun. Further collaboration and education is needed to successfully combat trafficking. It takes a community to win the battle against human-traffickers and PASS is very hopeful for the future. United we can STOP Human-Trafficking in Hawaii and we are convinced that, through commitment and working together, Hawaii’s island communities can end trafficking in the state within 10 years,” she said.

Before lawmakers closed the extensive briefing, Kalei, a young mother of a 3-year-old daughter who was raised in a “good Christian family” also shared her story of becoming a sex trafficking victim. She said met a man at a club who kidnapped her, raped and beat her until she nearly died and forced her into prostitution by telling her he would take her child if she did not comply. She said she is making it her personal mission to shine the light on what is really happening on the streets of Hawaii, she said.

Hawaii also has an extensive illegal farm labor problem, which the Pacific Alliance Against Slavery and other advocates continue to investigate. Several labor trafficking victims from Laos have been interviewed by Hawaii Reporter and their stories are detailed in three stories 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

The 60 working day legislative session begins on January 18. The legislation discussed yesterday will be officially introduced and considered then.

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