New task force to shine spotlight on missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women

A new task force aims to gather data on indigenous murders, missing persons cases, trafficking and domestic violence.
Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thanks to a newly-formed task force, community advocates are trying to shine a light on missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls.

Many are victims of trafficking and domestic violence.

People Leinani Yahiku, who says that in 2017 she was abused by her husband and high school sweetheart and for six months was sold for sex.

“I didn’t know he was selling me,” she said.

“At first it started off as, I just want you to sleep with this person and then it was if you don’t sleep with this person then you are gonna get it,” Yahiku added.

Violence kept her from seeking help.

“That’s so normal with our culture, brush it under the rug, keep it in the family,” said Yahiku.

Now she’s determined to be a voice for others as the task force studies the issue of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls and searches for data on victims of trafficking.

State Rep. Stacelynn Eli of Nanakuli sponsored the bill that created the task force.

It’s co-chaired by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. There’s was no additional money attached to the task force, but they are looking for funds.

Eli says she personally knows more than more than a dozen people who’ve been trafficked and some of them are her friends and classmates.

“A lot of our women and girls come from families that are trapped in poverty and for many of them, this is the only way for them to eat,” said Eli.

In 2018, 21-year old Melissa Estoy vanished. Her vehicle was found at Zablan Beach in Nanakuli with the keys in the ignition and her phone in the car.

“What happened to her? One moment she was here and the next she was gone,” said Eli.

“How do we protect our women and girls from being left vulnerable,” said Eli.

Yahiku planned her escape from the abuse and wants others to be heard.

“I’m not going to be silent,” she said. “My goal was to take this mess and turn it into message.”

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