Legislation Needed to Help Sex Workers and Runaway Teens

Jan 11, 2018

Britt Nakamura traded sex for drugs in Chinatown but turned her life around 6 years ago.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

January is National Slavery and Human Tracking Prevention Month. As HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, the homeless in Hawai’i are especially vulnerable.  

“I started our working the Korean bars as a dancer.  And as my addiction got worse and worse, I couldn’t even handle dancing so I ended up turning to prostitution.”

Britt Nakamura lived on the streets in Chinatown for years, trading sex for drugs.  She says there are many people like her still there.  But, Reverend Pam Vessels, who worked as a social service outreach worker in Waikiki, says teen runaways are the most vulnerable.

“If you run away from home, it’s gonna be on an average of about two weeks before you either sold or traded your body for a place to stay or food to eat.”

Reverend Pam Vessels worked as an outreach worker in Waikiki for 10 years.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Vessels says the Hale Kipa and Waikiki Health Center operate the Youth Outreach Project to help homeless runaway youth.   U-H Manoa Women’s Studies Department Chair, Professor Meda Chesney Lind, says research by the University’s Center on the Family shows what runaway youth really need.“Only 15 percent of the youth surveyed reported that they had been engaged in survival sex or sex for money.  The reality is these kids will tell us we need a place to stay, we need to get help with our education, we have healthcare needs that aren’t met.  So those are the kinds of issues that we should be thinking about.”

Harm Reduction Hawai’i executive director, Tracy Ryan, has hosted conferences on sex work and sex trafficking every two years since 2009.  She says legislation is needed for peer-based intervention programs.

Harm Reduction Hawai'i executive director, Tracy Ryan.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

“For minors we need a really good social service network and ideally, one that’s peer-led which would come from allowing adult sex workers to be legal and to organize.  You know, peer-based intervention to help our kids.”

Meanwhile, Nakamura says she turned her life around six years ago and is studying to become a social worker.

“Addiction is the great leveler.  It has no respect for social station, economic status, class, none of that.  You get addicted, everybody ends up in the gutter sooner or later.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.