The BYU-Hawaii Pre-Law Society hosted a panel on human trafficking with three anti-trafficking advocates who said trafficking occurs in every community, whether it be through the labor and sex markets or pornography. Students wrote questions about the scope, cause, and signs of human trafficking on pieces of paper that were handed to two hosts to ask the guests.
Panelist Andria Tupola, a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives who grew up in Laie, started the panel discussion by sharing how exposure to human trafficking and sex crimes can find it’s way into the home. When she was 6, she said her cousin was exposed to violent forms of pornography by her uncle at age 4. This encounter led to a lifetime of pornography addiction, which resulted in him ending up in federal prison and becoming a registered sex offender. She pointed out none of her family knew about it until the problem had formed into an addiction.
Tupola warned, “This is a real issue that happens everywhere, it doesn’t just happen in massage parlors, or by people trafficking people from other countries. It happens in homes. It happens in LDS homes. It happens with students.”
She continued, “This issue is not sensitive to age, to ethnicity, to religion. It can attack anyone. And at the end of the day it’s not if you saw pornography, it’s when. Everyone gets exposed to it.”
Panelist Lisa Thompson, vice president of the National Center of Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), explained how pornography is a public health crisis, and it can be used to condition victims of human trafficking to be sold for commercial sex. According to Thompson, porn is “changing the fabric of society.”
Thompson defined human trafficking as a “process that ultimately renders a person into a state of slavery, where someone is exercising the rights of ownership over them. Severe forms of trafficking a person [include] recruitment, harboring, transportation, provisioning and obtaining of a person by force brought on coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Those forms of exploitation can be commercial sex, involuntary servitude, and slavery.”
Zou Suke, a senior from China studying political science, said, “Before I thought pornography was just a moral issue, but it can actually turn into a crime and it’s really serious. We need to talk about protecting people from the beginning, not just from our age. We need to teach children and talk to them about sex and trafficking. That’s a cultural difference between the U.S. and China is that parents don’t talk about these issues.”
Panelist Bow Mun Chin, an attorney at the Legal Society of Hawaii who primarily deals with cases regarding labor trafficking, discussed how labor trafficking victims are coerced into slavery. “Many times the traffickers will tell the victims not to talk to other people, not to associate, and not the ask questions. They are told to be afraid of law enforcement.”
He shared an example of a case he was a part of in 2010 that involved 400 labor slaves from Thailand, the largest U.S. human-trafficking operation to be charged. Six job recruiters were charged with exploiting the workers, forcing them to work on farms on the mainland and in Hawaii. According to CNN, one instance involved the workers being detained on a pineapple farm on Maui, where they were told they’d have to pay a fee of $3,750 to keep their jobs or be sent to Thailand with unpaid debts.
Mun Chin encouraged students to be observant. “One thing we have problems with is that we can’t identify and find all the victims. So if you can be eyes and ears and observe when human trafficking is going on, contact our office, contact law enforcement. We know it’s going on out there, but the majority of it is not being reported. Having a neutral set of eyes and ears would be appreciated.”
Thompson added that a victim of human trafficking will display several warning signs. According to her, these signs include not being able to come and go as they please, being depressed and fearful, not being able to speak the language of the country they are in, always having someone speak for them and being monitored on a near constant basis.
In an interview after the panel, Jennifer Kajiyama, an adjunct professor of political science, said, “There’s exploitation in so many facets we may not even recognize. But if we all do something, there is so much influence we can have.”
Ulziika Sukhbaatar, a senior from Mongolia studying anthropology currently doing an internship at the Hawaii State Government Legislature, coordinated the panel after its original location at UH Manoa was dropped. She said, “I think it’s very important to educate ourselves and on the current issues especially. Hawaii passed a law on human trafficking last year, so I thought it was a good time to have this event. It doesn’t really matter if we are citizens of the United States. It is always important to be aware of where we are living and helping people around us.”
Sukhbaatar mentioned the importance of going to campus panels and discussions in order to gain a “worldly” education students can’t always get in a classroom.
Gantsolmon Dugarsuren, a senior studying human relations from Mongolia, said the event helped her to be more aware. “I thought about how I can help them, and if I see things, instead of just thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do anything,’ maybe I’ll be more proactive.”
Thompson urged students to help by lobbying for political change by continuing to criminalize commercial sex and repealing laws that protect businesses like Backpage.com from profiting off of human trafficking. Students can also make a difference in the private sector by visiting Endsexualexploitation.org and joining campaigns to put businesses on the Dirty Dozen List, a tool that lists businesses that perpetuate sexual exploitation through pornography, prostitution, and sex trafficking.
NOTE: This story's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Oct. 2017 print issue.