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Violence Against Women Act Revised to Include Hawaii Natives

Despite making up just 10 percent of the state’s population, Native Hawaiian girls and women account for nearly two in three of its sex trafficking victims. This week, President Biden signed legislation that ensures Native Hawaiian organizations can use Violence Against Women Act funds to support Hawaii’s indigenous women, according to USA Today. In previous versions of the nearly 30-year-old law, money was allocated for native women but not specifically for Native Hawaiians, creating a loophole that left many women unable to get support. “Native Hawaiian women have long been unjustly excluded from accessing much-needed resources for survivors provided through the Violence Against Women Act,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who led the legislative effort. “Now, Native Hawaiian organizations will have access to support and resources to serve the Native Hawaiian community and work towards eradicating sexual violence in our state.” More than a quarter of missing girls in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian. In a separate analysis of the 37 cases publicly reported by Missing Children’s Center Hawai‘i between 2020 and August 2022, more than three in four were female and 84 percent were Native Hawaiian. About 71 percent went missing on the island of O‘ahu, the state's most populated island and home to Honolulu.

Hawaii, one of the nation's least populated states, has the eighth-highest U.S. rate of missing persons per capita. “The overutilization of Native Hawaiians to meet sex buyer demand may be directly linked to structural economic coercion and vulnerabilities connected to land dispossession, exposure to sexual violence, hypersexualization, incarceration, cultural dislocation, intergenerational trauma, mental and emotional distress, racism, poverty, and going inequities,” concluded a 2020 joint report released by the Hawai'i State Commission on the Status of Women. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act is designed to support survivors of gender-based and sexual violence partly through federal grants to community organizations. After years of contention over certain provisions, Congress finally succeeded in reauthorizing it this year. The law sets aside special funding for Native-serving nonprofits to address sexual violence and support survivors. Due to drafting errors, the law never specified that Native Hawaiians could receive such funding. As a result of the inadvertent language issues, it wasn't clear that Hawaiian-serving organizations were eligible for the grants.


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