‘It’s hap­pen­ing’

Ac­tivists raise aware­ness of hu­man traf­fick­ing

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - LOCAL - By CAMERON MICULKA

KAILUA-KONA — As big of a chal­lenge com­bat­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing is in Hawaii, con­vinc­ing peo­ple it even hap­pens here in the first place is a whole other one.

“It’s hap­pen­ing,” said Ho‘ola Na Pua Re­gional Co­or­di­na­tor Renee Per­ring­ton. “And we need to start open­ing our eyes and see it.”

To get peo­ple to open their eyes, she and about a dozen other vol­un­teers lined Palani Road by Lani­hau Cen­ter to wave signs and raise aware­ness about sex traf­fick­ing of mi­nors.

Ho‘ola Na Pua is an Oahu-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that aims to help sur­vivors of sex traf­fick­ing.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion is cur­rently build­ing in Oahu the state’s first home specif­i­cally for girls res­cued from sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

Pearl Haven, as it’s called, will pro­vide ther­apy and in­ter­ven­tion for up to 32 chil­dren and will be “one of the largest li­censed and most com­pre­hen­sive health and trauma-cen­tric cam­puses for this vic­tim­ized pop­u­la­tion in the United States,” ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

But giv­ing traf­fick­ing sur­vivors ac­cess to care is just one step of solv­ing the is­sue, ac­tivists say.

Ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic is also a big part of the is­sue.

That’s where peo­ple like Per­ring­ton come in.

She said at Wed­nes­day’s event that she and oth­ers are plan­ning on go­ing into schools to talk to stu­dents, par­ents and youth groups about the is­sue.

She com­pared it to other ef­forts by groups like Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing, by iden­ti­fy­ing a so­ci­etal prob­lem and bring­ing about change in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“I think grass­roots move­ments are the way that things get done,” she said.

Za­hava Zaid­off, who at­tended the rally with her daugh­ter, said ad­vo­cat­ing against traf­fick­ing and rais­ing aware­ness about the is­sue has “al­ways been a pas­sion.”

Zaid­off works in men­tal health and sub­stance abuse, which of­ten in­ter­sect with the is­sue. She said that while there’s “def­i­nitely a lack of aware­ness,” an­other big is­sue is a per­va­sive “blame the vic­tim” men­tal­ity in the com­mu­nity.

Per­ring­ton noted that up un­til July, Hawaii didn’t even have a sex-traf­fick­ing ban, mak­ing the state the last to have such a law.

The law ex­panded pro­tec­tions for vic­tims. Hu­man traf­fick­ing had al­ready been banned, but sex work­ers still faced pros­e­cu­tion re­gard­less of how they got into the trade, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

De­spite the change in the law, Zaid­off said there still needs to be an ef­fort in com­mu­ni­ties to change the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing the sex traf­fick­ing of mi­nors.

She also called on com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions like churches and pro­fes­sional groups to be on the front lines and help pro­vide a safe place for youth.

“I just want peo­ple to ask the ques­tion: ‘What can we do?’” she said.

Per­ring­ton said Ho‘ola Na Pua is in need of vol­un­teers who can spread the word and help ed­u­cate com­mu­nity mem­bers.

“We need speak­ers, peo­ple to work tabling events,” she said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion will also be start­ing a men­tor­ing pro­gram for sur­vivors of sex traf­fick­ing.

Par­ents, she said, should also take the time to ed­u­cate their chil­dren.

It’s not an easy con­ver­sa­tion, Zaid­off said.

“As a par­ent it’s a hard de­ci­sion to talk to my daugh­ter about that,” she said. “As a par­ent, you just have to weigh that and say ‘I want you to be safe.’”

She stressed the im­por­tance though of hav­ing that talk.

“No­body should have the fear of hav­ing it,” she said. “This is how we save our youth.”

Pho­tos: LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii To­day

Renee Per­ring­ton, left, and My­fanwy Brun­ner wave to pass­ing mo­torists Wed­nes­day on Palani Road.

Raphaela Sh­varts­man, left, her fa­ther, Isaac, and Mercy Per­ring­ton wave signs Wed­nes­day on the me­dian of Palani Road rais­ing aware­ness of hu­man traf­fick­ing on the Is­land.

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