KAILUA-KONA — In 2016, 30 cases of human trafficking in Hawaii were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, five more than just a year prior and 11 more than were reported in 2012, according to that organization.
To take up the fight against the issue locally, about three dozen people from local faith communities gathered Saturday to hear and share ways to recognize indicators of human trafficking and also explore ways to provide survivors a way forward.
“It is very much a journey,” keynote speaker Veronica Lamb said of aiding trafficking victims. “And it requires dedication — and it is not something that happens overnight.”
The Hawaii Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking held a similar summit last year, which founder Melody Stone said was intended to be a launching point for raising awareness and bringing people together.
“But this year,” Stone said prior to the summit, “we are shifting our focus. It’s more focused this year to be more specific about what we can do.”
That focus is on Hawaii Island Safe Net, designed as a network of people and providers to help get victims the support and resources they’ll need through their recoveries. Stone is also the founder of the Safe Net.
While the coalition is an advocate for policy changes, outreach and education, the Safe Net is designed to connect resource providers that can offer wraparound services for everything from legal aid to education.
For example, Stone said, there might be an attorney who offers to volunteer their services and assist with legal documents, while another person might be able to drive people to appointments while still another person could help with tutoring or interpreting.
“We have to have people in the community — along with the resources that we have — to strengthen the resource base that we have in our community,” Stone said. “And so, make it actually accessible for people to get to the doctors or to the attorney’s office or wherever, to facilitate in every way we can to fill those holes and those gaps.”
Every provider within that network, Stone said, would be vetted and trained in trauma-informed care, better empowering them to work with people coming out of trafficking.
Lamb, who gave the keynote address at the summit, is the social justice director for Bluewater Mission in Honolulu and a trainer with the Trafficking Victim Assistance Program.
During her presentation, Lamb not only broke down the various forms trafficking takes but also shared her own experience mentoring more than 100 survivors of trafficking, most of whom lived with her family in a variety of living arrangements.
With that experience in hand, she spoke about what those wanting to support the Coalition and Safe Net’s efforts ought to be prepared for and what comes with helping survivors.
Elizabeth Beard, who was attending Saturday’s summit, said it’s important for Christians to help restore victims’ self-worth and value during their recovery.
“Everybody who’s prostituted is being told that they have no other worth, that there’s no other way of life and that this is the only thing for them and that they can’t get out of it,” she said, echoing a part of Lamb’s presentation in which she described the tactics traffickers use. “So I think that for Christians, it’s so important to bring truth — that they weren’t created for this, and there’s something better.”
Stone said there are already some people interested in being part of the Safe Net network and added that the next step is to train and vet potential providers and getting the foundation for the program in place, hopefully in the next six months.
After that groundwork is in place, she said, they can start putting together a directory of services and continue to add providers as time goes on. That directory would, for example, give a caseworker at the Department of Human Services a way to connect a client with something like self-defense courses.
And the caseworker can also be confident that people in the Safe Net network have been vetted and trained in trauma-informed care.
“The key is getting people on board with this,” Stone said, “because you have to have people buying into this and saying ‘Yes, I will be a part of this and I want to get the training; I want to be vetted and go through that process, and I can see myself making a difference in this particular area or that particular area. I have something to offer.’”
Stone said she also has a goal of finding six homes around the island that could take in adult male and female trafficking survivors.