Hawaii last year passed two bills making human trafficking a felony.
It's estimated that trafficking enslaves well over 27 million people around the globe.
Kathryn Xian, is the Hawaii based director of the not-for-profit Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and is invollved in drafting further legislation to crack down on such abuse.
Speaker:Kathryn Xian, director, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, Hawaii
XIAN: Hawaii is a hub for international and domestic human trafficking for both sex and labour. Just the fact that it's promoted worldwide as a tourist destination does not preclude it from that fact.
COUTTS: A hub, so where's the trafficking coming from?
XIAN: We get unfortunately, because of our geographical location and many other aspects, we see all types of human trafficking. Most of it was is the agricultural community, because our soil is very rich, so where there's a lot of agriculture there'll be trafficking, farm workers that are exploited and definitely the sex industry, because we attract the military and a lot of military exercises as well as we are a tourist destination for the world. So our victims as well as the patrons of this illegal crime come from all over.
COUTTS: What are the ports of origin though that wind up in Hawaii with these people and to what extent, how many people are we talking about, like 1,000 a year, 2,000?
XIAN: Well, unfortunately there is no sex trafficking law, there's only a labour trafficking law that was just passed. What we did pass on the sex trafficking side though was reforms to the promoting prostitution statute. But because we don't have a sex trafficking law, there's no accurate way of collecting statistics, but we are trying to find ways around that obstacle. As far as the statistics, I mean we feel that they are mostly likely, we know for sure up to 1,000 labour trafficking victims in the past ten years, may be more that have also been trafficked out to other states. But that's only what we can gleen from the reports that have been given to us and on the sex trafficking side, much of it is the same. It's only what we have perceived on the streets and through our victims that we have seen that doesn't convey the true number of the problem and the sex trafficking issue is definitely like easy 1,000 girls a year easy. So that doesn't mean that it includes the entire scope of the problem, because there's underground outlets, there's brothels that we can't gain access to without law enforcement accompliment. So that's just kind of skimming the tip of the iceberg of the problem here in Hawaii.
COUTTS: Well, it seems then that last year to introduce these two laws is fairly recently considering the problem has probably been there for decades?
XIAN: It has, it has since contact actually. The earliest records in the legal record that we found was in 1825, when a young village girl, a Hawaiian village girl was sold for a year to a sailor for the purposes of sex by her alii and that marks in the record anyway the first selling of a women for sex.
COUTTS: You, Kathryn Xian, who is the director of the Hawaii-based Not for Profit Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, your involved in the drafting of the legislation with focus particularly on victims?
COUTTS: What do you intend doing or what can you do?
XIAN: Well, what we're trying to do is create a mandatory protocol of how to access and give these specific types of victims appropriate services and that's not being done right now, because of lack of understanding of the problem, lack of identification of these victims as victims, because as you may or may not know they are more often crimiinalised than viewed as victims. So if they new trafficking victims they are viewed as aliens, if they are sex trafficking victims, they're commonly viewed as prostitutes, even if they're under age. So part of the process of these bills, these measures would be establishing a state protocol, a system or a plan in which to deliver appropriate services to these victims who go through some pretty horrible crimes and exploitation with no real legal recourse, because they're so scared more often than not they're less inclined to collaborate with police, because they're really, really scared. So by the processes, once a victim is identified or suspected to be a victim, not even identified fully, yet they're given the adequate interview in the appropriate setting and that means not in a jail cell and more in a conducive to gaining trust type of atmosphere. And then other aspects of the measures ask for the ability for victims in sex trafficking to vacate their convictions of prostitution from their record once they've been identified by courts and in trial as a victim of forced cohersed prostitution or that prostituted person is under the age of 18. Because once they go back into the work force, it's really debilitating for them to divulge a record that was imposed upon them by their sex trafficker.
COUTTS: Could some of it be not so positive, I mean once they come forward, because the fear factor is huge there and they do seek help. Are they likely to be repatriated, are they likely to be sent back to their homes whether they want to go or not?
XIAN: Eh no, with the labour trafficking victims, with the lack of identification, sometimes and this is the worst case scenario, sometimes they're deported before they're recognised as they were trafficking victims. As far as the sex trafficking victims and the other labour trafficking victims that are identified it really is up to the victim whether he or she would like to go back to their home country or home state. It's sometimes it's not safe for them to do so and sometimes during their trial process, they're outed if their adults as being a part of this investigation, so there may be networks in their home country or home state that may inflict harm upon them or their families. So the US gives these types of victims the ability to immigrate to the US. So if the victim is caught and identified in the US as a victim and they go through the court process and they get a T or U Visa they can petition to send their entire family here and that's one of its benefits.
COUTTS: Well, how close is this legislation then? It sounds like it's really, really required?
XIAN: It is definitely required, it's definitely required in every state. One of the other bills that's also required education amongst public schools students because they're the highest at risk. I mean the average age of recruitment into prostitution is 13 years-old, which is around 6th or 7th grade. So yeah, so every state needs this package of bills, but we're kind of like going at it all at once, because we feel that Hawaii is behind may be about five or ten years from the rest of the states and some other countries, like Sweden. However, we are a little unsure as to whether or not these bills will pass unfortunately. But we are in it for the long haul.
COUTTS: It's a huge issue and lots to be said and done about it, but at what point are you with the legislation and how far into it are you or are you just still in the preliminary stage?
XIAN: We have just started, legislature opened last Wednesday, so right now is the hearing process for the bills and most of the bills have been signed. Three hearings as opposed to two which is a bit of a battle.
COUTTS: Why the additional hearing?
XIAN: The legislature felt that a lot of the bills require a financial component.
COUTTS: Meaning what?
XIAN: A fiscal appropriation from the legislature in order to make the services happen.
COUTTS: So support services for the victims?
XIAN: Right, and we don't disagree. We think that that is the end goal is to be able to have the legislature and the government provide services for these victims.
However, we feel that at the very minimum since we are in a recession. Hawaii is still in a recession that might kill the bills.