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Safe Place For Sex-trafficking Victims

Kaleo Schneider | Nathalie Walker photo

Kaleo Schneider | Nathalie Walker photo

It starts with a girl, 13 years old. Perhaps she has been abused at home. Perhaps she has been targeted and “groomed” on the Internet by a guy she thinks cares for her. She believes with all her heart that he loves her, that he will keep her safe.

She is tragically, heartbreakingly wrong.

Kaleo Schneider is educational coordinator for Smart Courage, an organization committed to making people aware of the scourge of sex trafficking. Schneider directs local efforts to educate law enforcement, lawmakers, educators, students and the public about a problem that is growing in Hawaii.

That 13-year-old girl, Schneider says, places her naïve trust in a man who will become her boyfriend – and then her pimp. He will use false promises of love to reel her in. He will keep her in line with violence, drug addiction and threats. He’ll sell her on the streets, and over the Internet.

It’s a ghastly life. “It’s a form of slavery,” Schneider states. It’s happening worldwide and, she says, is taking off here in Hawaii.

Why don’t these girls leave before they become entrenched in the life of prostitution? Schneider says they don’t know any better. They feel shame. Their pimp has brainwashed them to distrust law enforcement. They have no money and may not even have a home to go back to. Some may fear for their families. And all of them believe they have lost whatever value or worth they once had.

Schneider says her job is to make people realize these girls and women “are not prostitutes, but prostituted. They are victims.”

Schneider and others are supporting and lobbying for several bills that may help change the way the system deals with these victims. The most important one would alter the definition from prostitution to sex trafficking. This would turn our current perception of the crime – and how we deal with it – on its head. Instead of being criminals, these girls, women and boys would be considered victims (and rightly so, in my opinion).

The criminal onus would be placed squarely on those who actually do the trafficking or are participants in it: the pimp and the buyer.

Another bill would provide much-needed funding to keep the victims safe and to rehabilitate them. Not easy, Schneider says. The long-term effects on these young victims are devastating. The girls have a police record. They’ve dropped out of school. They have to be treated for sexually transmitted diseases, PTSD, depression and anxiety. Often they attempt suicide.

Schneider says changing laws is a good first step. Providing services and shelter is another. The third important component to halting and preventing the growth of sex trafficking in Hawaii is education.

Schneider has been taking her message to schools. One of the things she focuses on in her PowerPoint presentation is the part social media plays in sex trafficking. Young people often let their guard down on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. They post intimate details about their personal lives. They give out information and post pictures that make it easy for predators to stalk them and then groom them as potential victims.

The Internet also has fueled an explosion of pornography, which in turn has provided an easy, worldwide market for trafficking.

Schneider says it’s critical to get out all of this information to kids and educators, because the average age of a sex trafficking victim is between 12 and 14. She’s given her presentation to public and private schools 70 times in the last year and hopes to do more.

And she is hoping the state will get behind the need to provide a place where victims can live in safety while they get the services they need. They are calling the project Ho ‘Ola Napua.

“Ho ‘Ola Napua’s focus is to build a safe home to rehabilitate underage victims of human trafficking. We are actively working on a location, and hope to hear soon if we qualify for the land.”

If you want to learn more, or if you’d like Schneider to bring her presentation to your school, church or organization, email her at smartcourage1@gmail.com or call 393-4379.

Twitter: @JadeMoon1