Data lacking on missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women

Makanalani Gomes, of AF3IRM, a feminist and decolonization organization, holds a fist in the air as she discusses a report on missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022 in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

HONOLULU — The average profile of a missing child in Hawaii: 15 years old, female, from the island of O‘ahu and Native Hawaiian. That’s according to a report released Wednesday that says much more disaggregated racial and gender data is needed to combat the scourge of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women.

Key findings of the report, the first of its kind released by a task force created by the state Legislature last year, include that the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the U.S. mainland also has been devastating for Native Hawaiian girls and women, with the military playing a large role in the sexual exploitation of children.

More than a quarter of missing girls in Hawai‘i are Native Hawaiian, the report found, but a comparable, reliable statistic for Native Hawaiian women eluded the task force because of lacking data, said Nikki Cristobal, the report’s principal investigator. The task force was created amid renewed calls for people to pay more attention to missing and killed Indigenous women and girls, and other people of color after the 2021 disappearance of Gabby Petito, a white woman, triggered widespread national media coverage and extensive searches by law enforcement. Petito’s body was later found in Wyoming.

Public and private agencies don’t always collect statistics on race. And some data groups together Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, making it nearly impossible to identify the degree to which Hawai‘i’s Indigenous people are affected. About 20% of the state’s population is Native Hawaiian.

Agencies such as the state, police departments and the military need to do better at collecting and retaining disaggregated data, Cristobal said.

Publicly available data in 2022 showed that 38% of those arrested for soliciting sex online from law enforcement posing as a 13-year-old during undercover operations were active-duty military personnel, the report said.

In response to a request for comment on the findings, a Department of Defense duty officer said late in the day Wednesday that the message was being forwarded to the right person.

The Department of Defense didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Violence such as “selling and buying girls for sex on military bases, hotels, game rooms, massage parlors and in our own communities,” impact Native Hawaiians at much higher rates than other populations, Cristobal said.

“Native Hawaiian women and girls are displaced not only through violence, but also through data collection across departments and across islands,” she said.

The findings are startling but not new, said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawai‘i State Commission on the Status of Women and the task force’s co-chair.

“Instead, it vindicates and validates what Native Hawaiians, sex trafficking and gender-based violence service providers and feminist activists have been saying all along and have been told that they were exaggerating or manipulating facts or just simply providing an anecdote,” she said.

Several states formed similar panels after a groundbreaking report by the Urban Indian Health Institute found that of more than 5,700 cases of missing and slain Indigenous girls in dozens of U.S. cities in 2016, only 116 were recorded in a Justice Department database.

Wyoming’s task force determined that 710 Indigenous people disappeared in that state between 2011 and September 2020 and that Indigenous people made up 21% of homicide victims even though they make up only 3% of the population. In Minnesota, a task force led to the creation of a dedicated office to provide ongoing attention and leadership on the issue.


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