Kathryn “Kathy X” Xian, Girl Fest Hawaii / When Kathryn “Kathy X” Xian isn’t busy as a filmmaker or performing duties as Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s director of communications and development, she is the “non-executive director” of Girl Fest Hawaii–an annual event advocating violence prevention for women and girls through the arts. Despite the organization’s strictly all-volunteer basis and refusal to accept government funding, this year’s conference has managed to garner more support than ever. Bringing people together by showcasing what resources already exist in the community, Girl Fest seeks to emphasize self-defense in this year’s event. Xian spoke to the Weekly about both the conference and ongoing issues that the organization advocates.
How is this year’s Girl Fest different from years past?
We’re in a recession. Despite that, we’ve got the most community support we’ve ever had. We’ve gotten more volunteers than before. It seems like everybody wants to see this happen. That’s really refreshing.
Was there a change in approach in reaching out to the community?
I think we’ve seen a major increase of sexual assaults, as well as domestic violence since the beginning of 2008. Since we’re solely devoted to violence prevention, we felt that it is critical that women have an option to defend themselves. That can take various forms. Physical self-defense is [basic.Many] people think we’re a non-violent group. We’re not because of the fact that we advocate for self-defense, which is a form a violence. Otherwise, things like equality and liberty will not survive. When you look at areas where there are no laws, it comes down to who has the ability to defend themselves on a basic physical level. We take that for granted in a first-world country.
You talked about the statistics of sexual violence going up in 2008. Is that locally, nationally, internationally?
That’s worldwide. Just by keeping an eye on what has been publicized, you can imagine what hasn’t been publicized. Part of that is the way our community has been addressing violence against women. Our typical response to whenever domestic violence death happens or sex assault? We throw a silent vigil. The message it sends to perpetrators out there is that you can kill a woman. We’re not going to be happy about that, but all we’re going to do is be silent about it. What groups like Girl Fest are trying to do is bring community into an age of accountability. Silent vigils are great for mourning, for healing. But that’s why funeral exist. For community healing, it’s better to focus community activism or community emotion into something more pro-active.
You mentioned more of an emphasis of self-defense for women this year. Can you talk about the legal workshop?
Legal Aid and the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse are coming together to educate women to what their rights are in the family court system, filing a TRO, what their rights are if they’re considering leaving an abusive situation–what the dangers are–if they have children. [Often] when a woman leaves her abusive husband, she will be leaving a situation and she’ll have no income. That automatically puts her in a state of poverty. And if she has children, that compounds that. So how to negotiate that [situation] because there are services out there that can provide help.
What have you learned–as an artist, as an organizer–through organizing this conference?
The movement is way too splintered. Because we don’t get federal funding and we don’t get restrictive state funding, we are one of the few organizations that actually can say what other organizations cannot–as far as the status quo, as far as policies. When it comes down to knowing somebody or being a victim of violence yourself, you’re not going to think about territorialities. You are going to think about social services that are going to help you. If we bring it back to that core, I think we could get a lot more alliances formed.
Are you aware of any new legislation fighting violence against women and girls?
There’s the human trafficking bill that’s going to be introduced in the Women’s Caucus. [But] our statutes are problematic in areas when it comes to victims’ protection. More often than not, if I may critique the statutes. Hawaii is very liberal when it comes to criminalization of men who inflict consistent violence upon women and girls, unless it’s egregious and well publicized. You have a whole percentage of crimes that are not well-publicized. That’s something that I think we need to take a look at as a community.
What are some of the issues specific to this state with regard to human trafficking, violence against women and girls, etc.?
Hawaii is one of eight states in the nation that has not passed a law on human trafficking. There is a burgeoning of child trafficking and it’s unaddressed.
For the people being trafficked to Hawaii, is it mostly from Asia?
Oh, Hawaii sees it all. We’ve got international victims coming in from all over the world. You usually find them in brothels–a.k.a. 24-hour massage parlors–back rooms in strip clubs or hostess bars. And you see domestic victims coming from Hilo, other islands, and from the contiguous states…you have the Aloun case. And then I’ll highlight this case because it sums it up in a nutshell as far as our inadequacies of our current statutes. And you can find this on our [traffickjamming.org] Web site. Rodney D. King and Sharon-Mae Nishimura were indicted this year on a federal offense of trafficking humans for sex. They had a couple of minors that they fed ice to in order to coerce them and force them into prostitution. In 1999, because of the inadequacies of our state statutes, King plead guilty and was given two-and-half years in prison and three years supervised release. It’s because of something called deferred acceptance, which is kind of like Hawaii’s last get-out-of-jail free card. Because [King] plead guilty, and under deferred acceptance laws, he got such a light sentence. Furthermore, if he had applied for a legitimate job, it would have been legal for him to say that he had not been convicted for a crime. That’s not justice. So one of the things in this human trafficking bill is that it would set a mandatory minimum for traffickers of children. It’s very victim-centered and it focuses the crime on the perpetrator. The problem with things like prostitution statutes is that they place both the john and the victim in the same category. That it makes almost impossible for police to identify victims as victims. Even children–they’ll see them as prostitutes, or truants or runaways.