According to the U.S. Department of State, the number of men, women and children smuggled into the country for forced labor, sexual exploitation and bride trafficking (more commonly known as “mail order bride”) has increased exponentially within the last two decades.
Each year, an estimated 14,000 to 17,500 arrive in the U.S. after being coerced, manipulated or kidnapped. Worldwide, 1.2 million children are trafficked to a number of destination countries, and of these, more than 300,000 children from the U.S. are forced or manipulated into the sex-trafficking trade. As you can imagine, the emotional, physical and psychological trauma is devastating for these victims, many of whom are forced to remain enslaved for fear that the loved ones they left behind will be harmed, even killed.
Like many parts of the world, in Hawai‘i, this modern-day form of slavery is a silent epidemic. But there are some who are determined to stop it.
Since January 2009, the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (P.A.S.S.) set out to “educate the public about the growing problem of human trafficking, provide aftercare and support to victims, outreach to unidentified or unrecognized victims, advocate for the passage of local state legislation to make human trafficking a felony offense and to ensure the enforcement of such legislation.”
While federal law strictly prohibits human trafficking, penalties lack teeth in many states, including Hawai‘i, where human trafficking is not a felony offense. Recently, the Honolulu City Council passed a resolution recognizing the issue in Hawai‘i, urging the State Legislature to consider legislation that would impose fitting punishments.
Abolitionist organizations like P.A.S.S. are also pushing for stricter anti-trafficking legislation, criminalization statutes and provisions for victim protection and assistance programs. And they aren’t alone.
On Maui, a group of young men and women are spreading awareness of human trafficking throughout the months of January and February. The Awaken Tour is a faith-based organization that addresses the local and global effects of human trafficking through music, art and teaching.
The group has visited communities throughout the nation over the past nine months, and in February, a team will be traveling to Thailand.