The Hawaii tourism industry is getting involved with sex trafficking awareness
The Hawaii tourism industry is getting involved with sex trafficking awareness and prevention. It's part of an inaugural symposium that kicks off on Oahu Monday and will continue statewide through the week. Non-profit Ho'ola Na Pua wants people to know sex trafficking happens in paradise where children are targeted, exploited and sold.
"Because of our diverse culture, our diverse backgrounds and where we are strategically located in the middle of the pacific. Being a very transient place, trafficking can thrive in those environments," Jessica Munoz, Ho'ola Na Pua, said.
Campaign for a Safer Community is a half day symposium will discuss what trafficking is and how workers in the visitor industry can respond, report and act upon potential situations.
"The nature of the visitor industry is we're constantly changing and growing so it's important to host symposiums and forums such as this to train our new associates and to refresh the many stakeholders that make up the industry," Jared Higashi, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said.
"We have to address making sure that everyone in our community is aware that it happens so more eyes and ears are looking and seeing what to call and who to call and how to get in touch with law enforcement so there can be a response," Munoz said.
Sex trafficking can affect people of all ages. Tammy Bitanga walked the streets in Waikiki for the first time when she was 15.
"I met some guys that rolled up on mopeds and it was a fun party. We just did a lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol and had some fun and I didn't go home that night. From that time, at that point, I realized what I was into," Bitanga said.
Her healing journey started at 35 and continues 20 years later.
"I can cope with things and I have skills to learn how to take a step back and how to take care of myself," Bitanga said.
She's now using her experience to teach teens and young adults how to recognize potential red flags.
"We know that today it's still happening and if we can identify this is happening and help people to see and to hear when there's a victim in front of them, then I think we are doing a good thing in our community," Bitanga said.
Ho'ola Na Pua says traffickers are usually subtle when they first meet a potential victim.
"These individuals can approach kids through social media. Or meet them at a party after school and say you're so beautiful. You should consider being a model or you have a great voice, you should sing. We can make you a famous singer," Munoz said.
The organization believes if people can recognize these signs, the chances of prevention is greater.
For more information about the event on Monday on Oahu and other events across the state, visit hoolanapua.org/event/safer/