Sex Trafficking of Kamaliʻi in Hawaiʻi

Photo: Teddy Bear
Photo: Getty Images

Child sex trafficking is a very real problem in Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi law defines child sex trafficking as the commercial sexual exploitation of anyone under 18 years old for the exchange or promise of anything of value including cash, shelter, and food.

Sex-trafficked kamaliʻi are victims of a terrible, highly traumatizing injustice – and they are largely invisible. Little is known about the depth and complexity of sex trafficking, particularly when kamaliʻi are involved. Contributing to this invisibility are shame, stigma, and silence; a tendency to blame the kamaliʻi (“oh, if she would just stop running away”); lack of awareness; and reluctance to believe it really happens.

Most recruiters (those who seek out and lure kamaliʻi to be exploited) are known by the kamaliʻi – often family members, friends, or boyfriends. According to a nationwide study, only 10% of recruiters are strangers. Recruiters tend to prey on vulnerable kamaliʻi – such as those experiencing poverty, living on the street, running away, living with a disability, or residing in foster care. Yet, any kamaliʻi may be at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.

A 2020 report based on a survey of individuals receiving services from Child and Family Service Hawaiʻi found that:

  • 64% of sex trafficked victims were of Native Hawaiian descent.
  • 83% were female.
  • 23% were first sex trafficked when they were under the age of 18, and among those sex trafficked as minors, the average age at which they were first trafficked is 11 years old.
  • 26% were trafficked by a family member, 25% by a friend, and 25% by a boyfriend.

Combatting sex trafficking of kamaliʻi in Hawaiʻi requires collaboration.

Liliʻuokalani Trust is working with community partners to support culturally responsive interventions and systems-change efforts to protect our kamaliʻi.

To stop sex trafficking it is necessary to raise public awareness, generate better data, and establish a statewide coordinated system to provide trauma-informed identification and treatment of victims and prevention of future victimization.

If you are a victim of, or suspect any, sex trafficking activity, call 911 immediately. To report child trafficking, call the Child Welfare Services’ child trafficking hotline. On Oʻahu, that number is (808) 832-1999 or 1-888-398-1188 for the neighbor islands. If you’re worried someone is at risk and aren’t sure how to approach the situation, contact your county police department – anonymously or in person – or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

Photo: Palama Lee

Pālama Lee is blessed to have recently celebrated his 10th year at Liliʻuokalani Trust (LT). He is a clinical social worker and an evaluator and researcher who offers a culturally responsive lens to illuminate the wellbeing of our lāhui. He received his MSW and PhD at UH Mānoa. He is the Director of Research, Evaluation, and Strategy at LT.