Hawaii Harm Reduction Conference: “Deconstructing Sex Work and Sex Trafficking”…. held January 2018

Harm Reduction Hawaii and the Harm Reduction coalition hosted a conference on sex work and sex trafficking issues on January 9, 2018. It included sex workers of all trades, transgender leaders and allies, LGBTQ advocates, harm reduction advocates, policymakers, academics and other interested members of the public. The theme was Sex Work and Trafficking, but a variety of other issues were addressed. They included: homelessness, drug policy, mental health, youth issues, LBGT issues, the status of the new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, and other topics.

Conference Sessions

Keynote I A speech by Kamala Kempadoo of York University in Toronto, Canada. Professor Kempadoo has written and edited several books on the international sex trades and the efforts of persons working in those trades to achieve labor rights and agency while overcoming various harms and obstacles.

Keynote II– A speech by Annalee Lepp “Sex Work Organizing, Decriminalization, and Anti-Trafficking Work.” Annalee Lepp is a professor at the University of Victoria in Canada and a founding member of the Canadian branch of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW). GAATW is a network of over 80 non-governmental organizations worldwide. The Alliance takes a critical approach to human trafficking work, centers the human rights of migrant workers and trafficked persons, and supports the decriminalization of sex work.

Anecdotal Stories About Sex Work Dee Chock the President of the Zonta Club of Leilehua, interviewed the Rev. Pam Vessels. The Rev. Vessels spent over ten years as an outreach worker in Waikiki, Chinatown and elsewhere. For five years she also ran a residential facility for persons wishing to exit the sex industry. The Rev. Vessels shared anecdotal stories from her work from the humorous, to the shocking, to the tragic. 

“Anti-Trafficking” an Alibi for State Immigration Restrictions Presented by University of Hawaii Professor Nandita Sharma, this covered problematic aspects of government efforts aimed at controlling transnational trafficking.  It included some of her ground breaking findings from a well-publicized case in Canada over a decade ago.

The Fight Against Human Trafficking Chaminade University Professor Janet Davidson moderated this panel of experts including Annalee Lepp of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, and Kristen DiAngelo of the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project.  Hawaii Deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata was invited, but unable to attend.  This discussion outlined approaches to fighting human trafficking internationally and in Hawaii. 

Government Regulation of the Sex Industry: Models A presentation by occasional worker and activist Doug Upp and Kimberlee Cline from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project.  This helped people understand the various ways that government approaches the sex industry around the world.  The differences between Sweden, Nevada, New Zealand, and out system here were explained and the often confusing terminology used made clear.

Hawaii’s Laws Governing Prostitution Harm Reduction Executive Director, Tracy Ryan presented a review our current laws. Local attorney William Harrison was unable to make this due to a last minute conflict.

Homelessness and Sex Work  Heather Lusk the executive director of the Community Health Outreach Work (CHOW) Project moderated this panel discussion.  Panelists included Cathy Kapua of the Life Foundation, as well as Hana Barrineau and Jean Mooney of the CHOW Project.  Explanations as to how homeless people become sex workers and how sex workers become homeless was provided.  An overview of culturally appropriate services was discussed.

The History of Prostitution in Hawaii  This was presented by Tracy Ryan the Executive Director of Harm Reduction Hawaii and Ms. Carter Churchfield from HonoluluExposed.com.  It covered prostitution in the Kingdom days, the brothels in Iwilei at the turn of the 20th century, the defacto legal brothels in Chinatown during the 1930’s and 40’s and some more recent history. 

Homeless Street Youth and Their Relation to Sex Work Judith Clark the Executive Director of the Hawaii Youth Services Network moderated this session.  It included a presentation of ongoing UH research by Ivette Rodriquez Stern and Sarah Yuen. That was followed by commentary on how these situations relate to minors in the sex trades, from Jessica Munoz of Ho ‘ola Na Pua. Ms. Munoz discussed their mentoring program.  Additional comments were be provided by Deborah Smith of the Youth Outreach Program. 

Sex Workers’ Rights Around the World This was a panel discussion on the global sex worker rights movement moderated by UH Professor Meda Chesney-Lind. The panel will include morning keynote speaker Kamala Kempadoo.  She wasjoined by Kimberlee Cline and Kristen DiAngelo of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP).  They talked about the various sex worker led organizations around the world, their work in support of public health and against sex trafficking, and the conflicts that have arisen within the women’s community over sex work as labor. 

The Transgender Woman in Sex Work Cathy Kapua of the Life Foundation moderated a discussion including information and anecdotes from transwomen in the sex trades.  For decades transwomen have been highly represented in prostitution, particularly street based.  These stories illustrated how this population’s experiences in prostitution differ from that of cis-gendered persons.

Voices From Within Sex Work Dee Chock the President of the Zonta Club of Leilehua, moderated a panel of voices from within the sex industry featuring three sex workers’ stories.  The three women included Kimberlee Cline and Kristen DiAngelo of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP). They were joined by Mary Francis Nelson.  These women shared their different stories of their lives in the sex trades.  Helping Youth