Hawaii Study Links Homelessness and Sex Trafficking

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Photo courtesy Hawai'i State Commission on the Status of Women

More than two-thirds of sex trafficking victims in a Hawaii study reported being homeless—a link researchers said should alert authorities to the special needs of individuals already suffering from a history of family abuse and drug addiction.

“Homelessness and sex trafficking go hand-in-hand,” said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and a co-author of the study.

“The housing crisis [in Hawaii] is also a sex trafficking crisis.”

The study, based on a voluntary survey in 2019 of 363 male and female clients of state service agencies across all five Hawaiian islands, found more than a quarter met the criteria of sex trafficking victims, some of whom reported being trafficked as young children.

Some 69 percent of the victims were homeless.

“When describing the reason why they were pushed into selling themselves, sex trafficking victims cited [lack of] a place to stay and drugs more often than the need for money,” Jabola-Carolus said in a release accompanying the study.

“No one should be condemned to sexual violence because they cannot access shelter or drug treatment.”

The study, conducted in partnership with Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and the state’s Child and Family Services Agency, found that more than 20 percent of the victims had been trafficked by family members.

Individuals who bought sex from the victims included tourists, members of the military and law enforcement, doctors, politicians and even individuals working in the criminal justice system, the study found.

More than 23 percent of the sex trafficking victims surveyed were men. A majority of all victims were first trafficked after they turned 18.

The incidence of sex trafficking in Hawaii has long been hidden, study authors said, citing “culturally induced shame” as one of the reasons.

“Other reasons include a tacit acceptance of youth running away from home, easy access to drugs and alcohol, and an environment of non-responsive support systems.”

Only 15 percent of sex trafficking victims identified as Caucasian, although whites make up 25 percent of the state’s population—suggesting that a “disproportionate” number were Native Hawaiians, the study authors said.

The study called for a statewide coordinator for addressing sex trafficking, observing that Hawaii was one of only 10 states that did not have such an office, as well as “structured training programs” for caregivers, law enforcement and social service personnel.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz of Arizona State University was the second co-author of the study.

The full study can be downloaded here.

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