Sex trafficking in Hawaii Contrary to its idyllic image, Hawaii is a hub for the sex trafficking of girls and women. The area around Waikiki beach, lined with posh hotels and boutiques, is, she says, for "high-class street walkers".
This is not your typical Hawaiian holiday tour. Those tend to involve snorkelling adventures or biking down sooty volcanoes. But hidden behind the pristine image of this Pacific paradise is a thriving sex tourism industry. The streets are mostly empty in the mornings, but today there is some activity in a park - a fair or festival of sorts has drawn a meagre crowd.
She had been doing the same thing a few blocks earlier. She is standing alone, checking her phone. Bitanga says she appears too "dirty" to be a trafficked child prostitute. Inside Sonagachi, Asia's largest red-light district Bitanga knows this, because she used to be one.
Bitanga is one of an unknown, and some say very difficult to measure, number of children and women who have been forced into sex work in Hawaii. This doesn't include the street prostitution and online scene. There are also girls from Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. Clients are usually men with money, some military, some tourists, Xian says.
Many come from Asia or mainland United States, but there are local clients as well. Hawaii's central placement in the Pacific sex trade circuit has cast a shadow over the islands, Xian says.
In Hawaii, Sensley says, networks import victims from abroad, but the trade does not exclude locals. A failure to help victims One of the most frustrating things for Xian is what happens to the victims who manage to escape. Instead of being treated like survivors of rape and psychological abuse, they are put in the difficult position of having to give evidence against their abusers and face grave consequences, or face criminal charges themselves, Xian explains.
They fear their traffickers, who have sometimes controlled them for years," she says. Hawaii's record in dealing with the issue is erratic, activists say. In recent years, the state's response to human trafficking has improved according to two independent anti-trafficking organisations. Shared Hope International improved the state's rating in an annual report from the lowest possible grade of an F in to a D last year. The Nigerian Connection Last July, Hawaii's state governor vetoed an anti-sex trafficking law, which supporters said would have helped victims more effectively than the state's current legislation.
The law was "well intentioned", he said, but could "actually impair law enforcement's ability to prosecute crimes related to prostitution and sex trafficking, including sex trafficking of juveniles.
She shares the story of one who was lured into prostitution four years ago, when she was At the time, the young girl, who was from a "good family", was in her first year in high school, Munoz explains. At a mall in Waikiki, she met two men in their late 20s who promised her fame and fortune. They took her to an apartment, where she spent several days "hanging out" with them.
They gave her drugs and then her instructions: She had to go to Chinatown, wait on a street corner and meet a client. Munoz says the girl was afraid so did as they told her. That was her foray into prostitution.
Even when she gave birth to a baby fathered by her pimp and served a short prison sentence for prostitution, she felt unable to leave the sex trade. Now, aged 18, she is still working as a prostitute, Munoz says. The girls can be as young as 11 or 12, she says. Once they are in the trade, the girls are often afraid of what their pimp might do to their families, she says. But the typical way they are brought into the sex trade is different from what the public might think.
These are not "snatch and grab" abductions, like in the movies, Munoz says. Instead, girls are lured through "boyfriending", as she calls it, or, as Xian says, the "lover boy" approach. Like the young woman who was coaxed from a mall with promises of stardom, victims are often vulnerable teenagers who respond to an older man's attention and flattery.
Eventually, a few days or weeks later, they are ordered to have sex with a client. The victims are pushed into the first encounter in several ways, Xian says.
Sometimes they are gang-raped and beaten into submission. Other times they are drugged into compliance. Girls are forced or asked to perform certain acts and from there, "it gets worse and worse, until a John forces himself upon her. She's broken in," Xian says. The fees for children are much higher, Xian says. She was 16 then. Escape is near impossible, she says.
The girls can end up in prison or with criminal records, the public is largely in denial about the problem, and the victims do not get the therapy they need to move on and heal, she adds.
Now she is fighting the impulse to return to sex work. The rights of sex workers It is not very different from what happened to Bitanga. She met a man when she was 14 years old, during an evening of "partying, drinking, smoking". She paid for her own ticket from two nights of prostitution and ended up in an Anchorage massage parlour, where she handed her earnings to a pimp.
The argument is she cannot choose that," Bitanga says. Her pimp was not violent or coercive, she adds. It's a boyfriend type of thing.
He showed me affection, he gave me nice things, he boyfriended me into wanting to do it. Even when she had a professional job, at one time as a paralegal for a prominent lawyer, she still went out at night. It was impossible to stop, she explains, because she did not value her body and it was the only world she knew. Now that she is about 50, she no longer works as a prostitute. Instead, she volunteers to help trafficked teens who have managed to escape to stay out of sex work, and she is a vocal advocate for treating them as victims, not criminals.