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LIHUE — A forum on human trafficking on Thursday was filled with some blunt, uncomfortable talk, but they were topics that organizers said needed to be brought into the open.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor at Arizona State University and co-founder of the Office of the Sex Trafficking Intervention Research with Khara Jabola-Carolus, shared a story about a girl in a group home.

The girl said her stepfather was molesting her at the time, and her mom did not believe her and kicked her out of the house.

She met a guy on Instagram, and she hit “like” on a picture of a guy standing in front of a building with a bunch of money and two girls wearing bikinis at his side.

His top girl wrote her an Instagram message and asked, “do you want to join us?”

She said, “yes,” and within 24 hours got a bus ticket and traveled to Las Vegas.

“And within another hour, she was sexually assaulted by the guy (pimp), and then she was put out on the highway to be sold for sex,” Roe Sepowitz said.

But she said there is hope.

About two years ago, her group opened the first housing program for sex-trafficked women in the United States. It has 15 women and 42 children.

“We care dearly about the children and their moms, and we do a lot of trauma work,” she said.

“We are worried about those kids. We know those kids are disproportionally likely to be trafficked themselves because of their vulnerabilities,” Roe Sepowitz said.

”They have been in group homes, and they were outside of the care of their families. They watched their moms get beaten. They have seen people using drugs in front of them,” she said.

Edith Ignacio-Neumiller, secretary of the Kauai County Committee on the Status of Women that organized the meeting attended by about 30 people, said it’s essential to protect keiki.

Two years ago, Ignacio-Neumiller got the inspiration to bring the talk to Kauai at an annual national conference. It was there she watched a video of a young girl who was a trafficking survivor.

At the same conference, after the video, a woman sat down at the table with a detective next to her. It was the girl in the video as an adult. She now works for police with human-trafficking survivors.

According to Ignacio-Neumiller, there was not a similar program on Kauai.

“I immediately texted Justin Kollar from the conference and asked him if there was human trafficking on Kauai,” she said.

“He gave me a one-word answer, ‘yes.’”

The panelists she gathered for the forum included Stefani Iwami, clinical director of sexual assault services at the YWCA Kauai; Kollar, Kauai prosecuting attorney; Jessica Munoz, founder and president of Ho‘ola Na Pua; and Kauai Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck.

Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, said, “We believe in Hawaii and the United States that women have sex because they want to, not because they need to or have to. We do not believe that there is a right to access your body, whether that right is exercised by economics or any other form of pressure or vulnerability.”

Roe-Sepowitz mentioned placing sex ads in the newspaper as part of her research. There were 407 hits from people who called after reading the ad on Oahu two months ago.

She said most people didn’t want to sell sex, but needed to out of desperation. Others had mental issues or came from broken homes.

Kollar said Hawaii was the 50th state to have a sex-trafficking law after a second attempt to get a bill passed in 2016.

“To our knowledge, there is zero to none reported. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,” Kollar said. “On Kauai, it’s just harder to detect. We should continue to talk about this and find ways to help our community understand it better.”


Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.

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