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Sen. Hirono sits down with Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence

Hirono roundtable.PNG
Office of Sen. Mazie Hirono
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Sen. Mazie Hirono sits down with survivors of gender-based violence in a formal roundtable event held on Jan. 17, 2023.

Sen. Mazie Hirono hosted a roundtable Tuesday with organizations that support Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence — including sexual assault and sex trafficking.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more than two-thirds of sex trafficking victims in Hawaiʻi are Native Hawaiian women and girls.

Venus Rosete-Medeiros, President and CEO of Hale Kipa, said her organization works to identify young people who may have been sex trafficked to get them assessed and housed.

"It’s challenging. I’ll be honest because of the brainwashing that has occurred. A lot of the time the girls will come in, we’ll work with them, stabilize them, assess them, and then they end up going back," said Rosete-Medeiros.

"We’ve had maybe two, three times that they’ve gone in and out before they even realized what’s happening to them."

But she said the path to exit the sex trade requires more than just shelter.

"Ever since 2018 when we decriminalized youth prostitution, we needed a place for them to go, so with that, it takes a lot of work, a lot of mental health treatment."

Hirono said for decades the Violence Against Women Act, which provides support to survivors of gender-based violence, excluded Native Hawaiians.

She helped pass legislation last December to allow Native Hawaiian organizations to receive federal funding to combat gender-based violence.

“Now that the President has signed my legislation into law, my hope is that we can better support Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence — our work is far from over, " said Hirono in a press release Tuesday.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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