Concerns Over Missing Children, Sex Trafficking Prompts Community Meeting
The worries over Hawai‘i Island’s number of runaway children and concerns of sex trafficking have grown over the past several weeks.
To address this unrest, the owner of Umekes will be hosting a community meeting this evening at 5 p.m. at the restaurant’s new location by Kona Brewing Company Pub in Kona. Anyone interested should bring a chair.
“My cousin was almost a victim (of sex trafficking),” Umekes owner Nakoa Pabre said. “I wanna raise awareness in our community so people that, yes, this happening and what we can do to help.”
As of Tuesday evening, Hawai‘i Police Department was not planning on attending.
“We were not asked to attend, so we did not need to decide if we were going or not,” HPD’s Area II Assistant Chief Robert Wagner.
The increase in missing children reports captured the attention of Hawai‘i County Councilman Matthew Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who requested the police department provide a report on how they handle these incidents.
On June 16, Lt. Sandor Finkey appeared before the council during its public safety committee reporting the county has 152 cases on missing juveniles so far from January-to-date, all of which are classified as runaways.
The statistics show a decrease in cases from the same time period last year when there were 162 kids reported as missing. The reason there appears to be an uptick in missing keiki, Finkey explained, is because detectives with the juvenile aid section have been working with patrol to circulate the information about missing children more quickly.
On June 17, the media alerts for missing children were reclassified as “runaway.”
“The recent change of our department’s media release heading to from ‘missing’ to ‘runaway’ is to provide the public with more clarity with regard to the actual case classification,” Finkey said in an email last week.
Finkey explained the public interpreted the “missing” child reports as juveniles being missing.
“With the recent media attention and our testimony before the Hawai‘i County Council, we believe that the message has gone out to the public that runaways are vulnerable to exploitation and should not diminish the urgency,” the lieutenant said. “If the case is classified as a runaway, it indicates that there is no information to lead police, parents, or guardians to believe that the juvenile was abducted.”
County Prosecutor Mitch Roth was also present during the committee meeting. When dealing with missing teens and runaways, Roth explained, the children usually come from a household where domestic violence is occurring or other trauma. Because of that, it’s important to work with nonprofit organizations to help get children the services they need, Roth added.
“We don’t have a lot of people being boogie-man snatched, but when you have a child trading sex for a place to stay or drugs, that’s technically sex trafficking,” Roth said during the meeting. “A lot of times, victims of sex trafficking don’t know they’re being sex trafficked.”
Testifiers at the meeting were deeply concerned about the number of missing children and the presence of sex trafficking.
Anastasia Ayers, Big Island Services Program Manager for Ho‘ōla Nā Pua, said the nonprofit organization, which promotes education advocacy on child sex trafficking, has received many calls from the community surrounding the increase in missing children.
A problem of this scope, Ayers commented, can only be tackled when the community is aware, engaged, and committed to preventing victimization and supporting the comprehensive services that are needed for those who have been victimized.
“I feel it opened up the conversation to continue putting our heads together,” Ayers added. “People are ready to talk about it, and we wanted to take the opportunity to speak on it and show our support.”