Girls sometimes have to leave Kaleo Schneider’s presentations on sex trafficking because they cannot handle the trauma of hearing stories that are so similar to their own.

It doesn’t matter whether Schneider, a volunteer at Ho‘ola Na Pua, an organization that combats sex trafficking, is speaking at a middle school, high school or college, public or private. Young women approach her to confide that they, too, have been abused or exploited. Sex trafficking occurs in our islands, much closer to home than many of us realize or want to believe. Our classmates, friends and sisters are being trafficked. We must do more to help them.

As Schneider and other advocates explain, a pimp will use threats, violence, manipulation and blackmail to force a girl to sell her body for the pimp’s profit. This crime doesn’t generally start out violently. A trafficker, typically in his 20s, will charm a teenager around 13 years old into thinking he is in love with her, and will do anything for her. Once the girl is “groomed,” he will put her through a breaking period, during which she is repeatedly raped, beaten and starved.

Human trafficking prostitution

Sex traffickers prey on young teens, trapping them in an environment where they’re often raped, beaten, starved and exploited for money.

To keep her from contacting authorities, the pimp will take nude pictures and videos of the girl to use as blackmail. Once the pimp has emotional and physical control, the girl is trapped and trafficked.

One would think that the government would do everything it could to protect girls from such abuse. But in Hawaii, that is not yet the case. Hawaii is the only state in the nation that does not have a law banning sex trafficking. Instead, we have laws against promoting prostitution, which end up punishing girls who have been forced into the sex trade and should be treated as victims instead.

Fortunately, there is some help in the form of Senate Bill 265, which would change the way Hawaii defines and prosecutes crimes related to sex trafficking. Men and women throughout Hawaii must raise their voices in support of this bill.

Ho’ola Nā Pua is one of several organizations rallying support for this measure, and working to end sex trafficking in Hawaii. According to Schneider, one of the most effective ways to reach that goal is by raising awareness among the general public. People who can recognize the signs of sex trafficking are less likely to be victimized themselves and more likely to reach out to help those at high risk of being exploited.

One easy way to advance the cause is to participate in Ho‘ola Nā Pua’s Sex Trafficking Awareness Walk on May 7 from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in downtown Honolulu — see http://hoolanapua.org/ for details. The free event is the group’s official launch of a fundraising campaign to build a safe home on Oahu where underage victims of sex trafficking can live in peace and restore their lives.

Opportunities like this help to keep Hawaii’s girls safe, and help to make sure that people like Schneider hear fewer new stories of despair.

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