According to the International Labor Organization, almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor, either by private individuals or enterprises. Of those exploited, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation and Hawai‘i is no exception.

Hawai‘i sees victims of sex trafficking in our residents, mainland visitors, and foreign nationals. Victims include men, women, and children and come from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Fortunately for us, victims have the Pacific Survivor Center to turn to for help and support.

The Pacific Survivor Center (PSC) is a non-profit organization committed to advancing health and human rights in the Hawai‘i-Pacific region. They strive to heal and empower survivors of abuse and exploitation through direct services, education, research, and advocacy. We were honored to partner with them in April to bring 20 advocates and public health professionals together to learn about sex and labor trafficking as part of our Perspectives on Community Health program.

PSC is comprised of a multidisciplinary group with backgrounds in medicine, public health, psychology and international humanitarian assistance. It was heartbreaking to learn that familial trafficking and targeting girls at their high school is very common.

It often starts with the predator promising the girls to buy them nice things or spoiling them with pampering at nail salons. Once they are sucked into the fantasy, they are now under the total control of the trafficker. Pictures of how traffickers “mark” their territory was quite upsetting to participants. Some victims are tattooed with names of who they belong to, others were tattooed with a scannable barcode, used as their identification. Demand in Hawai‘i comes from all sectors – the wealthy, military, blue collar workers, and even tourists.

PSC is educating communities on how not to be fooled by these predators. They are teaching middle school students through a locally made documentary titled, “TRICKED: It Looked Like Love.” TRICKED uses animation to share real stories and real voices of sex-trafficked youth. The film, along with curriculum, helps engage students as they learn how to get help and how to help others. Viewing TRICKED, we got to hear firsthand experiences of youth who survived sex trafficking. As a group, we learned so much from the presentation and conversation with the staff at PSC. The creation of new allies, networking with fellow peers, and adding PSC to everyone’s resource list was invaluable.

The World Health Organization defines the Universal Right to Health as a “state of physical, mental, and social well-being” and crimes such as sex trafficking and exploitation are a threat to that right. It is our duty as health professionals and community members to do our part to eradicate these human rights violations. Mahalo to Pacific Survivor Center for partnering with us and sharing your stories of empowerment.

Our next Perspectives on Community Health field trip takes us to Kahalu‘u Bay in Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island. On Thursday, June 21,  from 9 am-12 pm, we will partner with the Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center, a program of the Kohala Center, to learn the cultural history of the Bay, reef etiquette, and for those interested, to snorkel!  To join us, please register here. If you have ideas for a future Perspectives trip, please contact Stephanie Moir at stephanie@hiphi.org.

We hope to see you there or at a future Perspectives field trip!