New campaign to help sex trafficking victims in Hawaii - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

New campaign to help sex trafficking victims in Hawaii

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new campaign will soon kick off to help young victims caught in Hawaii's sex trafficking industry. The group Ho'ola Na Pua is raising funds to build the state's first long-term facility for rescued girls.

"It absolutely broke my heart that we don't have anything. We're putting these girls in detention facilities. We're putting them in Hawaii Youth Corrections. We're sending them to programs off-island," said Jessica Munoz, Ho'ola Na Pua's founder.

Volunteer Tamara Bitanga supports the effort because of her traumatic experience as a teenager. She wound up in foster care after being abused by her father. At age 15, she met a pimp in Waikiki who sold her for sex.

"I've been raped. I've had a gun held to my head," said Bitanga. "There's still parts of me that need healing and I've been out a long time, but there's still sometimes that I do break down and it's a result of the trauma that I suffered back then."

Ho'ola Na Pua will launch a campaign next week to raise $4 million for renovations and operating funds. The facility will be built on a 12 acre site the group is leasing from the state. Vandals have damaged the building and taken all the copper pipes and wiring. The facility will house up to 32 victims and provide them with therapy, medical care and schooling. The goal is to open the home at the beginning of 2017.

Advocates agree that a long-term facility is needed, but one group that helps sex trafficking victims is raising red flags about the project. Kathryn Xian of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery said that state agencies and working groups are still developing protocols and training. She also said that a separate emergency facility needs to be created first to give victims time to develop trusting relationships.

"Setting up a facility of this nature without the proper protocols or the mandatory emergency care facility in place, first and foremost, is pretty much a recipe for inefficacy. What you will see is a high rate of youth running away," explained Xian.

Xian is also concerned that Ho'ola Na Pua is raising funds before receiving its state license for the facility. Munoz, however, is confident the sanctuary will offer victims a safe place to heal.

"Those trusting relationships are important and that's why we're working so hard to make this an inviting atmosphere and an inviting program, a place where young girls will want to stay," she said.

Ho'ola Na Pua will kick off its fundraising campaign on May 7 with an awareness walk in Chinatown. Volunteers are encouraged to arrive at The ARTS at Marks Garage at 1159 Nuuanu Avenue at 4:00 p.m., wearing a green or purple shirt.

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