Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Sex trade survivors share their stories

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i youths drawn into the brutal sex trade are starting to tell their heart-rending stories in voices above a whisper. And although nobody knows how many stories are out there, people are starting to listen.

Some of the listeners, as well as some survivors of sexual exploitation, yesterday were sitting in a panel discussion on the problem in Hawai'i — part of a three-day conference on human trafficking that concludes today at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

The panel was shown excerpts from a video that will soon be screened by schools and community groups. On the screen was Jamie Ehia, now an adult who at 14 met a guy — more like an "uncle" type — who set her up in her own hotel room.

"And I didn't have to do anything for it," the one-time runaway said before the camera. "I learned the true meaning of 'nothing in life is free.'

"He told me he loved me, and I never heard that," she added. "Whoever told me that they loved me, it was, 'OK, this is THE person.'"

Ehia, interviewed while working at a runaway shelter and before she left the Islands, is one of the few subjects willing to release her name, but the video, a product of the Adolescent Commercial Sexual Exploitation Project, shone spotlights on others in Hawai'i.

There was an ex-pimp, his face obscured on tape, talking about scoring about 70 percent of each girl's take.

"I tell them, 'You do what I say ... don't do nothing else,'" he said. "If she doesn't, she pays the price."

One former prostitute said a pimp roped her in after getting her number from her best friend. Another recalled that "when a girl opens up the door to get in the car with a customer, she never knows what's going to happen."

Sometimes what happens is horrific. Kelly Hill, panel moderator and a founder of the peer assistance network for prostitutes called Sisters Offering Support, broke down when she recalled the recent murder of a prostitute who was found beheaded.

"I'm still having a really hard time about it," said Hill, regaining her composure.

Hill cites an estimate circulating among some social service agencies that the sex industry on O'ahu involves 10,000, but the fact is, nobody really knows how many there are.

"They don't raise their hands to be counted," said panelist Judith Clark, executive director of the Hawaii Youth Services Network, the nonprofit that is producing the multimedia sexual exploitation education kit.

The video is being shown to test groups now (call 531-2198 for information). Schools and nonprofits can get free copies, but not until January, when the accompanying curriculum guide and other materials are completed, Clark said. The whole project was paid for with $38,000 in grants from the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Atherton Family Foundation, the Hawaii Community Foundation's Okamura Family Fund and the California-based Fund for Nonviolence.

The program is aimed at the target market of prostitution recruitment — youths around 14 years old — but one of the teen groups previewing the video told Clark she should start with younger kids.

Meanwhile, at the prosecution end of the problem, law enforcement is trying to root out offenders who prey on young children, said U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo.

Federal prosecutors here have jailed 13 pimps since 1995 for sex trafficking across state or national lines, starting with the Lamar Baker case; Baker is serving 13 years for his recruitment of prostitutes in Honolulu, Vancouver, Portland and elsewhere, Kubo said.

Another trafficking case based in American Samoa, involving a defendant named Kil-Soo Lee, is in federal court, Kubo said, but he declined to discuss details of that case. Kubo said he's aware of eight Hawai'i girls of high school age in the past several years who were lured by traffickers and sent overseas. A network active several years ago and known as "The Abyss" was a prime player working on O'ahu, he said, but most of the principals of that group have left.

"There is a substantial number of foreign children in Hawai'i" because of trafficking, he added. "And what we find is that because we have Polynesian features, young girls are found to be a commodity for export for the sex trade."

In the audience, Kate Garrison, a student planning a career in public health nursing, is convinced the problem is greater than anyone knows.

"I live on the edge of Waikiki, and I get off work at night and see these women everywhere," she said. "I worry about them. Sex work is such a part of life here."