Weeks after a new human trafficking bill, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022, was approved in the House for reauthorization seven young victims of human trafficking were recovered. According to FBI Honolulu, as part of a cross-country operation at least seven girls were located and rescued on Oahu on Friday by FBI agents, the Honolulu Police Department, the Missing Child Center of Hawaii (MCCH), and other partners, KHON2 reported.
The FBI noted that two traffickers in Hawaii were arrested in connection with the victims. The suspects face child sexual exploitation and human trafficking charges.
Nationwide, about 85 individuals were taken into custody for child sex trafficking offenses.
This month alone, the FBI’s operation located 84 child sex trafficking victims and 37 actively missing children across the nation. The average age of the victims was 15, with the youngest being just 11 years old, Hawaii News Now reported.
“The unfortunate reality is that the longer the child is missing or unsupervised, the higher the chance that they will be victimized,” said Amanda Leonard of the MCCH, according to KHON2.
The recoveries follow calls from Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono urging that more should be done for native and Indigenous trafficking victims.
According to census data, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander groups make up 10.5% of Hawaii’s current population. But according to data from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, they constitute the vast majority—up to 77%—of sex trafficking cases. When looking at child sex trafficking cases, Native Hawaiians represent 37% of victims statewide.
Hirono questioned the head of the FBI on the agency’s effort to protect Native Hawaiians from sex trafficking last week.
“Native Hawaiian women and girls represent 67% of sex trafficking victims identified in recent studies. Native Hawaiians also represent 37% of child sex trafficking cases. Can you begin to talk about it, to include them in your programmatic efforts?” Hirono asked FBI Director Christopher Wray as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In response, Wray said: “I will say that you put your finger on an important issue, and our Honolulu office has been working very hard to target and aggressively pursue federal charges on known and repeat human trafficking offenders.” Wray noted gangs and traffickers typically target marginalized groups, which include native communities.
Hirono is demanding the government take action.
“It is a huge human rights issue,” Hirono told NBC News. “You have categories of people in our country who are particularly being victims of sex trafficking and violence, murder and missing persons.”
She noted that while a task force has been established by the state to address the problem of sexual exploitation across the islands, federal agencies like the FBI and the Department of Justice should be looking into these cases as part of the larger efforts to confront the missing and murdered Indigenous people's crisis.
The issue of violence against native and Indigenous peoples is not a new issue. Several other lawmakers, including Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet Secretary in U.S. history, have called for not only more attention to the issue but action to investigate these issues. According to Daily Kos, Native Americans are three times more likely to experience violence than any other ethnic group in the United States, and have little to no resources for legal or financial justice, in comparison.
Data has also found that while more than 20% of Indigenous people remain missing for 30 days or longer, only 11% of white people remain missing for the same time period. Another disparity was present in terms of media coverage: While 30% of Indigenous homicide victims made the news, more than 50% of white victims did.
Hirono is right; little to nothing has been done for Native people—not only in Hawaii, but nationwide. We must not only uplift the voices of Indigenous women and people but provide whatever support we can to help end this deadly phenomenon. Check out organizations like The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) to see how you can help end violence against Indigenous people.