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A new study by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and Arizona State University School of Social Work suggests the response to online advertisements for sex is far greater in Hawaii than other places in the United States. This groundbreaking study is the first to look at the behavior of sex buyers in Hawaii, where currently there is no active strategy to address prostitution demand.
“The demand for prostitution, which is fed by sex trafficking, has never been studied in Hawaii. This groundbreaking report shows that the demand is exponentially higher than the supply. It is clear that we will not be able to arrest our way out of this problem, and traffickers know to bring their victims here because we do little to stop them,” said Khara Jabola-Carolus, Executive Director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.
Researchers with ASU placed advertisements in the Hawaii Women Seeking Men personals section of Backpage.com over a two-week period in March. The ads were similar to other sex ads placed on the website but used photos of professional models who consented to their use. Researchers recorded responses to the ads and monitored other sex ads over a one-week period.
“We’ve placed these types of ads in major cities throughout America in previous studies, but we weren’t expecting what we found in Hawaii,” said Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of ASU’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. “The number of calls and texts generated in 24-hours by one advertisement we placed for Oahu was simply astronomical.”
That ad was placed March 23, 2018. It was one of 58 sex ads that could be found on Backpage.com that day. Within 24 hours, researchers received 756 contacts: 396 phone calls and 364 text messages. A total of 409 unique phone numbers were used to place the calls and texts representing 87 different area codes. Seventy percent of contacts came from the 808 Hawaii area code. A second advertisement was placed a week later on the Big Island generating 95 contacts (45 calls and 50 texts) from 65 unique phone numbers in a 24-hour period.
For comparison, researchers recorded 45 unique respondents in the first 24-hours of sex ads placed in Phoenix, 25 in Chicago, 22 in Boston and 20 in Denver.
According to Jabola-Carolus, “This report shows that Hawaii has one of the worst demand for prostitution problems in the United States. Buyers are the direct cause of harm experienced by people in prostitution.”
The capture-recapture analysis resulted in the finding that one of every 11 adult male residents of Hawaii have attempted to buy sex from an online advertisement.
“More people are penalized for jaywalking and homelessness in Hawaii than for illegally buying sex,” said Jabola-Carolus. “And that demand by buyers is what ultimately drives sex trafficking, a crime that often involves the victimization of minors.”
The report “Sex Trafficking in Hawaii Part 1: Exploring Online Sex Buyers” is the first in a multi-party study examining sex trafficking in Hawaii.