Seeing Red


By Kelli Soileau

Local community groups and organizations are working to raise awareness about the violence that Native Hawaiian women, girls and māhū face in Hawaiʻi. The data shows that Native Hawaiian women and girls are disproportionately represented as victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence.

“Historically, missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls have been excluded from national recognition, although local women’s rights advocates, survivors and families have long held that a crisis exists in Hawaiʻi,” says Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women (HSCSW).

In 2020, HSCSW surveyed 97 sex trafficking victims and found that 64% identified as Native Hawaiian. 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.

Last year, a state task force was established to address the problem thanks, in part, to a resolution sponsored by Rep. Stacelynn Eli. The task force is led by HSCSW and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) with support from other state agencies, local authorities, and community organizations.

So far, the task force has raised $50,000 to fund research about the crisis locally and members have undergone training by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), the national watchdog and epidemiology center on MMIWG-US. But simply collecting data will not end the violence against Indigenous women and girls. Solutions are needed.

In July 2013, in Lame Deer, Montana, 21-year-old Hanna Harris of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe was reported missing by her family. Police did not consider the report serious, but a week later her body was found. The single mother had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

Five years ago, in an effort to raise awareness and encourage change around the epidemic of MMIWG, a National Day of Awareness was established on May 5 – Hanna’s birthdate. It is a day to commemorate Hanna and other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Here in Hawaiʻi, May 5 events include a Red Dress Art Activism event in Waikīkī, and on Maui there will be sign-waving in downtown Kahului followed by a cross-island motorcycle convoy on May 7. On Oʻahu, Waikīkī was specifically chosen to bring public awareness to the toxic intersection of tourism, poverty, sex trafficking and violence.

“Factors unique to Hawaiʻi – like the high numbers of tourists and the substantial military presence – fuel sex trafficking and put Native Hawaiian girls, in particular, at risk of violence,” said Jabola-Carolus.

Ultimately, education and awareness are key to ending this crisis.

Show your support and spread awareness for this movement by wearing red on May 5, and by attending MMIWG awareness events in Waikīkī and Kahului.