Legal / Young girls in Hawaii are bought and sold as easily as pizza. They are ordered online, delivered to hostess bars, massage parlors and strip clubs and are even found wrapped up in gift boxes to be delivered to men as mail-order brides–“satisfaction guaranteed.”
It sounds like sensationalism, but it isn’t. One hundred and forty-six years after passage of the 13th Amendment, humans are still being sold for huge profits. Uprooted from their homes and stripped of their human rights, girls as young as 12 years old are sold into a criminal industry that has existed since antiquity. The question is, when will slavery in Hawaii end?
What looks like prostitution is not prostitution. What’s called human trafficking is nothing less than slavery. For modern-day abolitionists like Kathy Xian, the executive director for the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS), the real world war is on the streets and online, and the worst crimes are committed against women and children.
“You have to understand,” says Xian, “the human brain doesn’t stop developing until around age 24 or 25. If these children suffer abuse and are recruited into this trade, it will affect their brain development. Our society blames the victim, instead of the ones who are really responsible–the pimps and the johns.”
According to International Crisis Aid statistics, between 100,000 and 300,000 children–primarily girls–are victims of the sex trade in the US. Instead of being helped, they are being prosecuted, thrown in juvenile detention and vilified. These jarring statistics mirror their shocking stories, and in Hawaii, sex slavery in hostess bars, strip clubs, sex clubs, and the buying and selling of women online, is skyrocketing. The pimps and johns run free, the sex businesses flourish, and children are abused and put behind bars.
Political theorist Hannah Arendt famously stated that “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law. Their plight…is that no law exists for them.”
This couldn’t be more true in Hawaii. Victims of local sex crimes are re-criminalized due to the inexplicable lack of legislation that would otherwise protect them. Victims are often arrested and sent to jail, resulting in prostitution charges and a sentence that deprives them of the only thing they still possess–the faded possibility of a successful future. Instead, their pimp pays the $250–$1,000 fine, and they once again return to a life of fear.
First Lady Nancie Caraway, who was the director of Women’s Human Rights Projects at the Globalization Research Center, says it is essential to address the “supply and demand” factors of human trafficking.
“Trafficking is a labor problem, a public-health problem, a gender issue, a migration problem and a global criminal problem,” says Caraway in an anti-trafficking task force statement. “Our own consumer habits fuel global slavery.”
Human trafficking, in its most basic definition, is a crime against humanity; it is the act of exploiting a person through the use of force, coercion or manipulation.
At its core, it is the denial of liberty for the purpose of making money off of that person. Sometimes it takes the form of forced labor, such as the recent Aloun Farms case, and can also be the sexual exploitation of a person. In other words, human trafficking is modern-day slavery.
Legally, the only difference between prostitution and sex trafficking is that the prostitute willingly engages in prostitution of her or his own volition.
“On a humanistic level, sex trafficking and prostitution are the same thing,” says Xian. “But for victims of sex trafficking, there is no free will in that equation. For the main reason that you still have the problem of re-victimizing victims as criminals.”
Poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities are compelling factors that facilitate sex trafficking, but are not the root cause.
“Incest is boot camp for prostitution,” says Xian, quoting anti-trafficking activist Andrea Dworkin. Xian adds, “When you understand what happens to the victims, or see it first hand, you can’t walk away from that.”
While sexual exploitation of girls is well documented, boys are often overlooked. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), sex-trafficking can be linked to early childhood cases of incest and sex abuse, and most children are forced into the sex trade as early as age 12 or 13. By the time they’re 20, almost all are addicted to drugs or dead.
Debt Bondage: Aloun Farms
FBI Special Agent Tom Simon, one of the leading investigators in the Global Horizons case– the largest human trafficking case ever charged in US history, in which 400 Thai laborers were coerced into agricultural work–says that debt bondage occurs when captive workers–whether through sex or labor–are held against their will by their employers through threats and, all too often, violence.
In a recent interview, Simon said, “In the old days, they used to keep slaves in their place with whips and chains. Today, it is done with economic threats and intimidation.”
Local immigration attorney Clare Hanusz, who represents some of the defendants in the Aloun Farms and Global Horizons human trafficking cases, says that many times, women are manipulated into thinking that they are coming for legitimate jobs and then coerced into the sex trade in the form of hostess bars, parlors, strip clubs or prostitution rings to pay their recruitment fees.
Hanusz adds that debt bondage is one of the most common ways traffickers lure young women into believing they have no other choices.
“I represented a Korean woman working in a hostess bar,” says Hanusz. “She was arrested in an enforcement raid. She wasn’t charged criminally, actually she was not even working at that bar, but she was asked for identification, and all she had was a Korean passport.”
Hanusz says the woman was sent to the federal detention center and held without bond. After a phone call from another attorney, she found an interpretor and asked the Korean woman the details of how she made it to Honolulu.
“Turns out that she came here through Mexico on a raft through the Rio Grande,” she adds. “Red flag number one–that’s not how Korean women typically enter the US.
“That was her trafficker’s third attempt. Previously, she’d tried coming through Canada. She was coming to Honolulu to work at a hostess bar, but she did not know that was going to involve sexual services. She paid a recruiter a large amount of money. Here’s another example of a debt-bondage situation.”
Hawaii is currently one of five states in America that has not passed a human trafficking state law, or laws effectively addressing human trafficking as a felony offense while protecting the victims. With current bills in legislation in South Dakota and Massachusetts, Hawaii may in fact become a trio of states remaining in which labor trafficking and sex trafficking will continue to thrive.
Xian, who has committed the last 10 years of her life to being a spokesperson for PASS, says “the law will only see what you tell it to see,” and “without proper legislation protecting the victims of human trafficking, nothing, in Hawaii, will change.”
House bills 576 and 577 would criminalize sex and labor trafficking, and Xian says that what PASS is asking for is a complete policy change.
“We want a mental, spiritual, physical paradigm shift of what [the law] historically sees as a crime, or who they see as criminals–the girls. [Law enforcers] want to retain the power, for various reasons, to choose who is a victim out of a pool of criminals. Current prostitution statutes criminalize victims.”
With the establishment of a state law, Xian says the crimes will be addressed while victims will be protected. Law enforcement will then have specific funding for programs designed to address the illegal trade and trafficking of humans. Without these statutes, citizens and law enforcement will not adequately study and assess the problem in Hawaii.
House bills 576 and 577 have been introduced, re-introduced, stalled and killed. Rep. Gilbert Keith-Agaran, who for many citizens is the “John Brown hope” of deciding whether or not the bill will live or die, originally decided not to schedule the bills for a hearing in time for them to reach the House floor.
In an interview, the Weekly asked him why he wouldn’t schedule the bill, and what he wanted to say to those who are pointing fingers.
“I decided to hear the bills that the prosecutor said would actually help. Those are the bills that I’m pushing forward this year.”
Keith-Agaran believes the debate about human trafficking needs to be an open one. “We need to decide if we are looking at this as a law enforcement issue, or as a paradigm that all prostitutes are victims. Because that seems to be part of the underlying issue. I think law enforcement certainly isn’t ready to say that [all prostitutes] are victims.”
The theory that prostitution is a choice, is something Xian fiercely disputes. She believes that to understand sex trafficking and prostitution, people must understand that when a prostituted person is treated like a criminal and arrested, their story never makes it past the first interrogative interview.
“Trust is thrown out the window,” she says, “and no substantive work can be done to track the real criminals–the pimp or trafficker who trains her to say what they want her to say, and the johns who abuse her.”
While the bills could be re-introduced next session, Keith-Agaran said they probably wouldn’t make it out of his committee this year. However, in another attempt to resurrect it, Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland and Rep. John Mizuno revived the human trafficking bill by adding it as an amendment to HB 1003–which relates to the Penal Code–a bill introduced by the governor.
“The language that the Senate Human Services committee has placed in its Senate Draft 1 of HB 1003 has not been posted,” says Keith-Agaran. “If Sen. Chun-Oakland inserted the contents of the labor trafficking bill (HB 577), I’ll look at the legislation…if it moves on towards conference, Sen. Clayton Hee’s Judiciary committee will need to make a decision and return it to the House.”
Keith-Agaran adds that HD 2 of HB 1003 contained important language proposed by Gov. Abercrombie and supported by law enforcement to provide greater protection to witnesses in domestic violence cases.
“I hope that Sen. Chun-Oakland left that language intact in her Senate Draft and simply added the trafficking language,” he says.
Says Xian, “If Sen. Hee does not schedule the bill for a hearing by next Thursday (3/31), we’re back in the same place, and the bill will die.”
What is the real cost?
In Honolulu a woman can sell for as little as $150 or as much as $10,000 for a single night. In countries like Thailand and Brazil, orphans and daughters from poor families have reportedly been sold as servants and sexual slaves for less than $100. After being sold in cities such as Belgrade and Yugoslavia, young girls are reportedly locked in rooms, fed one meal a day, tortured with cigarette burns and forced to have sex with up to a dozen men a day, seven days a week, until exhaustion or disease wipes out her market value. Her pimp makes his money back in less than a week.
In Victor Malarek’s book, Inside the New Global Sex Trade, he points out that prostitution sprang up in Bosnia in 1995 to serve the United Nations troops. Malarek highlights the irony of these supposed “emissaries of civilization” feeding a barbaric industry. The author gives descriptions of 60-year-old US military officers showing up at social events with their 14-year-old sex slaves.
In 2008, Nidia Casati of the International Organization for Migration, which helps sex slaves return home, said that Bosnian women are “bought and sold constantly. They sell women like animals.”
She reports that the young girls are forced to pay off the cost of their own sale. They earn from “$50 an hour to $500 for a night, but are paid between $100 and as little as $13 a month.”
Future of Hawaii
Without legislation, Hawaii will continue as an international hub for sex crimes. Young girls will be trafficked throughout Honolulu, and what was once a family-tourism destination will become a sex-tourism destination.
It is the girl, repeatedly forced into sex that is put behind bars. Until lawmakers are awakened to the horrors inflicted by human trafficking, the war on slavery in Hawaii will persist.
Resources: How You Can Help
Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (P.A.S.S.)
Hale Kipa, Youth Outreach
808-589-1829 x 200
Missing Child Center Hawaii
The Ugly Truth
“I was told by an acquaintance that I could work at his restaurant. I decided to accept his offer as I thought my family might improve their life if I sent them my salary. Soon after my arrival, I realized that I was sold. My life since then has been like that of an animal.
I was sold three times. I begged my last owner to let me go home but she said I owed her lots of money that I had to pay back by sleeping with customers. I was always scolded and forced to do all kinds of terrible things.
It is impossible to describe how horrible and miserable my life was. For six and a half months, I was totally controlled by her. Every day I had to go out and sleep with men. I had no physical or spiritual freedom. She threatened that wherever I escaped to, I would be traced and killed and so would my parents in Thailand.”