A few years ago, North Shore resident Jessica Munoz began researching statistics on human trafficking while writing her thesis in nursing school. What she found shocked her.
“My focus was initially international, thinking that it happened in places like Thailand and Cambodia,” recalls Munoz, who is now a nurse practitioner in the emergency room at Pali Momi. “But I started finding out more and more that it was happening right here in Hawaii and on the Mainland.”
Distraught to learn that women and children were being sold for sex even locally, Munoz aimed to educate other health care professionals on human trafficking so that they could better identify victims. But she soon also realized that even if victims were identified, finding a safe place for them proved difficult.
“A lot of times they get arrested and put into detention homes. But they are not the criminals, they are victims,” she says.
To address this, Munoz helped launch a local chapter of Courage Worldwide, a nonprofit that aims to build safe homes around the world for child victims of human trafficking. Currently, the group is raising funds to build a home locally that would provide girls ages 11-18 with a place to rehabilitate, undergo therapy and learn basic life skills. In addition, the group raises awareness in the community, supports related legislation and visits schools to speak about the issue.
“Everything we do with Courage House is all about transitioning to the next stage in life,” explains Munoz, who volunteers as the group’s director. “We look at what were her dreams, goals and ambitions before she was sexually exploited. It is about getting back to those things and finding healing of body, mind, spirit and emotion.”
The program has seen success elsewhere. At the original Courage House in California, which opened in 2011, girls already have gone on to get full-ride college scholarships.
Although she admits she hates public speaking, Munoz has given talks on human trafficking throughout the country and is scheduled to speak at TEDxHonolulu in November.
“No one is voicing these girls’ cries, and I am just to the point where I am sick of it and I can’t hear another story about exploitation,” she says.
To raise funds for the home, Courage House will host A Midsummer Night’s Hope at 4 p.m. Sept. 8 at Sunset Ranch. It will include dinner, live entertainment and more.
“Despite the horrendous things that are happening within this issue, there is hope,” she says. “And the hope is that we can offer a place of healing for the girls.”
Tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Hope cost $75. For more information on Courage Worldwide Hawaii and to purchase tickets, visit courageworldwide.org/hawaii.