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Dozens of red dresses splayed across Waikiki to highlight issue of sex trafficking

Activists placed dozens of red dresses across Waikiki to highlight the high percentage of murdered and missing Native Hawaiian women.
Published: May. 5, 2022 at 9:15 PM HST|Updated: May. 5, 2022 at 10:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Red dresses were placed in the sands of Waikiki Beach and hung from trees and other places along Hawaii’s tourism hub as part of an effort to highlight Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Day.

The day was created by an executive order issued by President Joe Biden to address what he called an “epidemic” of missing or murdered indigenous people.

Local organizers used the day to point out the disproportionate percentage of local victims who are Native Hawaiian.

“Sixty-four to 77% of sex trafficking victims in Hawaii have been Native Hawaiian, and the majority have been women and girls,” Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission On the Status of Women said at a press conference in Waikiki, citing studies in collaboration with the University of Arizona.

“Native Hawaiian girls represent a disproportionate number of missing children in Hawaii,” Victoria Roland of the group Community Against Exploitation Hawaii said at the press conference.

“At our agency, the single largest group of survivors we see are Native Hawaiian survivors and their children,” said Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center.

Organizers said all that should sound the alarm when it comes to Native Hawaiian victims.

Some shared personal stories of trauma.

“I worked in Waikiki since I was 16 years old,” said Ihilani Lasconia of the activist group AF3IRM. “And these tourists, they come here, and I was a minor and they would literally ask, ‘How much?’ And if I declined and I told them ‘No,’ they would ask me to refer them to someone else.”

Ariel “Isabella” Kalua was also remembered on this day. The 6-year-old Waimanalo girl was allegedly killed by her adoptive parent, who are awaiting trial.

“I think the reality is that Ariel is one of many, many young women and girls that our state has left behind, that our state has silenced, and it’s really time that we invest really heavily in uplifting them,” said state Rep. Jeanne Kapela (D-Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook).

While there are some statistics, there’s a lack of hard data on exactly how many Native Hawaiian victims there are, because they haven’t been included in federal government studies on violence against indigenous people.

Organizers hope the dresses — and their voices — will speak volumes.

“Numbers and statistics are very dangerous and it takes away from the human element. But we also need to recognize that we’re not doing enough,” said Kapela.

The Missing and Murdered Women and Girls Task Force is currently compiling more data from various agencies, and hopes to have preliminary numbers on victims by the end of the year.

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