According to UNITE Hawaii, 80% of the 200-300 child runaways a month in Hawaii are approached by a pimp or trafficker within the first 48 hours. Most of the victims who've been rescued or escaped are the main reasons why people like Jeanne Kapela, continues to rattle the doors at the state capitol.
Executive Director of UNITE Hawai'i said, "I began working with a young woman who was trafficked from the time she was 13 and I met her when she was16. When I first met her she couldn't remember her name. Her pain and everything that she went through. And then her success becoming a survivor is really the thing that drives me to making sure that young women have an opportunity to have their voice being heard. Making sure that these victims who are voiceless have a voice in the state capitol, the community and have a voice to make sure that slavery doesn't exist here in Hawaii anymore."
With Kapela's help, the teenager got out of the industry but still died of AIDS a year later. Kapela hopes the priority end demand bill would dramatically strengthen the penalties for traffickers and people who solicit prostitution particularly for minors and completely eliminate any legal penalty for child trafficking victims.
Hawaii became the last state in the nation to ban sex trafficking and IMUAlliance wants the momentum to keep going.
Executive Director of IMUAlliance said, "In the course of doing both direct intervention to victim rescues as well as providing services we come across all kinds of gaps in the state law. When it comes to victim protection, when it comes to taking the severity of the crimes that have been committed against our victims seriously. So we come to the legislature and say this is what needs to change in order to better protect victims, give them the services they need and punish the people who were actually committing these horrible human rights crimes against our survivors."
Wrapping up human trafficking awareness month with a hearing set for Thursday January 25th at the state capitol to announce their "hotline poster" bill. This would increase enforcement of and penalties for massage parlors, strip clubs and hostess bars. If the bill gets passed, the speculated 150 high risk trafficking establishments will be required to post the National Human Trafficking Hotline number accessible to their workers.
Kapela believes the law enforcement still treats victims like criminals and that they need victim services, not criminal sentences. Coffield and Kapela are fighting hard to see these bills follow through along with the rest of the list they've put together.
A few more:
Mandatory Reporting bill (SB2275) - would require medical professionals to report suspected cases of sexual exploitation involving adults to law enforcement (cases involving children are already subject to this requirement
Emergency care facility bill (SB 2395/HB 2180) - would fund an emergency shelter for sex trafficking victims.
Cyber-trafficking ban" (SB 2464) - would target the problem of sex trafficking facilitated by the internet, through websites like Backpage.com. Over 120,000 advertisements for Hawai'i-based prostitution are posted online each year.
Coffield believes our geographical location is a huge factor and Kapela added, “we can’t combat sex-trafficking if we aren’t aware of it”. These organizations and other advocates are working hard to bring more awareness to the community along with being a voice to the survivors.
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