By Khara Jabola-Carolus
We are allowed to talk about a missing woman when she is a white hiker, but not when she is a woman from a colonized or nationally oppressed nation.
We are allowed to talk about missing women and girls, but not about why they go missing.
All this is about to change with HCR 11, passed during the 2021 Legislative Session. HCR 11 creates a multi-year taskforce to investigate the distinct phenomenon of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls across Hawaiʻi.
MMIWG is an acronym for “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” – both the political crisis and the mass movement to end it. Fatal domestic violence and the search for cheap supply for the sex industry fuel the crisis of missing Native women and girls, making it unique from missing people cases in general.
The violent recruitment of Native women into the sex industry is known as sex trafficking.
Native women are targeted by traffickers because of their compounded vulnerabilities under colonization. The MMIWG movement has gained momentum since 2014 in Canada, but it has existed for generations through the outcry and organizing by Native people.
The Missing and Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls taskforce is one of the only MMIWG taskforces in the United States to be helmed by women’s advocates and Native advocates, as opposed to law enforcement. But is this a solution without a problem?
HCR 11 recognizes mounting evidence that Native Hawaiian women and girls represent a disproportionate number of missing person cases and trafficking victims in Hawaiʻi.
In 2018, the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women, in partnership with Arizona State University, surveyed 22 sex trafficking victims and their families and found that 77% were Native Hawaiian. Two years later, the same group surveyed 97 sex trafficking victims and found that 64% were Native Hawaiian.
Further, from 2017 to 2019, one out of every three child sex trafficking victims reported to the Child Welfare Services child sex trafficking hotline were Native Hawaiian – and 95% were girls.
The taskforce will not be limited to “carceral” (prison-related) data from the state, but will also involve public engagement to build a storehouse of community knowledge. Collecting data is only half the battle. The taskforce will also develop solutions jointly with survivors and community members at the forefront of this issue.
Visibility is the only way to end the MMNHWG crisis.
Khara Jabola-Carolus is the executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women, a statewide government agency that works to restore the revered status of women in Hawaiʻi. She holds a juris doctor from the University of Hawaiʻi with a specialization in Native Hawaiian law.