Sex trafficking in paradise - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Sex trafficking in paradise

Katherine Xian Katherine Xian
Keith Kaneshiro Keith Kaneshiro

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pick any night in Waikiki and you'll see prostitutes plying their trade, pimps protecting their property, and the darker side of night life screaming "Sex for Sale."

"This is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry," said Kathryn Xian, co-founder of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS)..

Xian calls sex trafficking the modern day slave trade.

On a global scale law enforcement ranks human trafficking second only to drug trafficking. Pimps force women and young girls into prostitution then move them from city to city.

With its high-turnover tourist population, Waikiki's ripe for the sex trafficking circuit. Some girls on the street are local recruits but most are from out of town.

Beyond the high heels are horror stories. Xian hears them over and over.

"If they don't do what they're told they are severely beaten or raped or both, starved, other forms of torture," she said.

"It's all about power and money and greed," PASS outreach worker "Danielle" said.

She didn't want to use her real name because of her work with prostitutes who want to flee the streets.

"Danielle" was trapped in human trafficking where she experienced the strangle hold traffickers wield over their merchandise. She knows the desire many women have to escape.

"They either are afraid to ask for the help or they don't really believe that anyone will understand. There's a lot of shame that goes into that," she said.

"We see hundreds of girls annually just in Waikiki and that's not including the brothels," Xian said.

Hawaii is one of only a handful of states with no law that specifically targets human or sex trafficking.

Insiders say the money it generates is enormous.

One prostitute is worth $2,000 to $3,000 a night to her pimp. Some pimps have ten to twenty girls in their stable.

Xian said prostitutes are targets of police sweeps but the trafficker is the real criminal.

She helped craft Hawaii Senate bill 959 that would make sex trafficking a felony with hefty jail time.

"Go after the traffickers, not victimize or criminalize the victims, and really clean up this town," she said..

City prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro also wants to increase punishment on people who profit from prostitution. But he feels a roadblock to prosecution is fear. Prostitutes often refuse to testify against their pimps so he proposes witness protection.

"So they can come forward to us and tell us what's going on and we will protect them," he said. "Some prostitutes are criminals. That's why we have prostitution. And some prostitutes have been coerced to be prostitutes so in that sense they may be the victims."

While steps are taken behind the scenes to counter sex trafficking in Hawaii, Xian, "Danielle" and other outreach workers with PASS defy pimps and proposition prostitutes with their own offer.

"They can have a safe place to stay, warm bed, meals, and people to care for them, help them to go back to school or rebuild their lives," Xian said.

The group has a safe house. We can't show it to you because the girls being helped there fear reprisal from their pimps.

Xian said in the past eight months her group has helped two dozen prostitutes break free from their handlers.

The youngest girl is only eleven years old.

"They are human beings. They are worth more than they are conditioned to believe," Xian said.

"If you go up to any stranger, they have no idea that it exists, that there is slavery in the United States," "Danielle" said.

The average age of a sex trafficking recruit is twelve.

The U.S. State Department estimates 300,000 young people are at risk for sexploitation every year.

The crime is a worldwide concern and according to those who reach out to the women in Waikiki -- it's big business right here in paradise.

To learn more about the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and how you can help combat sex trafficking go to traffickjamming.org.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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