Hawai‘i Island Police Downplay Missing Persons Issue
According to statistics, Hawai‘i ranks eighth in the nation for the number of missing persons per capita. There are about 7.5 missing persons per 100,000 residents in Hawai‘i. “More than 3,000 children are reported missing in Hawai‘i every year” said 2007 Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona.
“Three-thousand?” asked Major Robert Wagner of the Hawai‘i Police Department.” Does that number even make sense to you?”
The police department indicated that the media has exaggerated the missing persons and sex trafficking issue in Hawai‘i.
“It’s an attention-getter when they say ‘sex trafficking’ versus ‘prostitution,'” said Major Wagner.
There are a number of reasons for a missing persons report, he said.
“A juvenile may be late returning home; an elderly person may have wandered off; a family member may have not heard from a family member in a long time and makes a missing persons report… those reporting those cases usually from off-island,” said Major Wagner. “And yes, occasionally we encounter foul play.”
However, he said, “I have never heard of a sex trafficking case connected to a missing persons case on our island—based on my knowledge.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in seven of the 25,000 runaways in the U.S. in 2017 were victims of child sex trafficking. Hawai‘i keiki may be at an even higher risk; a new study that reveals that the Aloha State has the highest response to online sex-selling advertisements in the nation.
According to this study, 82% of sex trafficking victims from Hawai‘i began being trafficked as children. Experts also believe that one out of every 11 men over the age of 18 in Hawaiʻi has purchased sex through an online advertisement such as Backpage.
The victims interviewed had been enslaved by their captors an average of 13 years with a range from 5.5 months to 32 years.
Another study on the survivors of child sex trafficking from the Big Island and Oʻahu and their families found that the police have been part of the problem. Nearly half reported that law enforcement officers were their frequent clients.
Victims and their families expressed concern that police were either unable or unwilling to recognize the issue of trafficking in their communities and little followup was conducted. When parents reported their children missing, they felt law enforcement rarely took their concerns seriously.
Several of the victims interviewed who were minors ended up being trafficked to the mainland. The victims reported that sex buyers came from all classes of people, including locals, visitors/tourists, military, law enforcement, doctors, politicians and persons working in the criminal justice system.
As contained in the Hawai‘i County Police Discipline Report for 2014, Hawai‘i police officers have a history of misconduct, including an officer being disciplined for inappropriate contact with a minor. The Hawai‘i Revised Statutes protects police misconduct from becoming public information.
Mayor Harry Kim was somewhat supportive of the current statute, “because of all the jobs I’ve had, I do believe in some confidentiality, but I do believe certain things have to be kept private.”
When asked whether he was concerned that some of Big Island’s missing persons may fall victim to sex trafficking, Mayor Kim responded, “I know very little about the innards and extent of it.”
He said he had read some about the issue in the press and reached out to police department personnel who told him they weren’t aware of any accusations.
Statistically, one out of every six children who go missing in Hawai’i is recovered from people recognizing them from an internet photo. According to Wagner, all but five of the 92 missing persons cases reported between January and June 2018 on Hawai‘i Island were closed and the individual was found.
Although there are news postings and some personal blogs containing missing person photos from the Big Island, neither the Mayor’s Office nor police department was aware of a government-run database specifically for open cases on the Big Island.
“I will look into that,” Mayor Kim said.