Available data suggest Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented among the state’s sex trafficking victims.

At first, he was just a boyfriend. He gave Ashley Maha’a gifts and attention. But then he gave her drugs and became controlling and abusive. He would punish her for breaking ambiguous, undefined “rules,” only to later say he was sorry and shower her with flowers and lavish presents.

After a while, he led the Honolulu high school senior — a 17-year-old minor — into Hawaii’s commercial sex trade.

“I shouldn’t be here with everything that was going on. I should be dead. And the majority of the people who are in my situation are missing or dead,” said Maha’a, who is Native Hawaiian.

Maha’a got out of that world years ago and is now a married mother of four. But it’s on her mind as she joins a new task force studying the issue of missing and murdered Native Hawaiian women and girls. She reminds herself of her plight every day so she can fight for others similarly trapped and vulnerable.

Its work comes amid renewed calls for people to pay more attention to missing and killed Indigenous women and girls and other people of color after the recent 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.

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 logged in a Justice Department database.

Wyoming’s task force determined 710 Indigenous people disappeared there between 2011 and September 2020 and that Indigenous people made up 21% of homicide victims even though they are 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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