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1 in 4 missing girls in Hawaiʻi are Native Hawaiian, report finds

Missing Native Hawaiian Women
Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/AP
Makanalani Gomes, of AF3IRM, a feminist and decolonization organization, holds a fist in the air as she discusses a report on missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022 in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

It's been over a year since the Hawaiʻi State Legislature created the Missing and Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls Task Force.

The organization has been collecting data to fill in the gap of the missing information about Native Hawaiian survivors of violence. They met at the Hawai'i State Capitol on Wednesday to share their findings.

"On one hand, these findings are startling, and then on the other hand this report really doesn’t say anything new," said Khara Jabola-Carolus, the co-chair of the task force and executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women.

"Instead, it vindicates and validates what Native Hawaiians, sex trafficking and gender-based violence service providers, and feminist activists have been saying all along," Jabola-Carolus said.

The first part of the Holoi ā nalo Wāhine ‘Ōiwi: Missing and Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls Task Force Report found that the average profile of a missing child in Hawaiʻi is 15 years old, female, from Oʻahu and Native Hawaiian.

Key findings of the report include that more than a quarter of missing girls in Hawaiʻi are Native Hawaiian and that members of the U.S. military play an outsized role in the sexual exploitation of children in the state.

Publicly available data in 2022 showed that 38% of those arrested for soliciting sex online from law enforcement posing as a 13-year-old during undercover operations were active-duty military personnel, the report said.

In response to a request for comment on the findings, a Department of Defense duty officer told The Associated Press late in the day Wednesday that the message was being forwarded to the right person.

Additionally, the report said that Hawaiʻi has the eighth-highest rate of missing persons per capita in the nation. Similar studies have shown that Indigenous women in Canada and the U.S. mainland are murdered or go missing at rates disproportionate to their size of the population.

"While we are grateful we have this data, we must continue to question why our stories and our lived experiences were not enough for the state to take action," said Makanalani Gomes, a member of the feminist organization AF3IRM.

The report said much more disaggregated racial and gender data is needed to combat the scourge of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women.

The task force plans to release a second report to the community, based on qualitative research.

"Native Hawaiian women and girls are displaced not only through violence, but also through data collection across departments and across islands, through racial misclassification and through the lack of collecting racial and gender data completely," said Dr. Nikki Cristobal, a principal investigator of the task force.

One of the difficulties in addressing the issue is that determining the true scale can be difficult because many cases have gone unreported or have not been well-documented or tracked.

Public and private agencies also don’t always collect statistics on race. And some data groups together Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, making it nearly impossible to identify the degree to which Hawaiʻi’s Indigenous people are affected. About 20% of the state’s population is Native Hawaiian.

To view part one of the report, click here or read below.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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