December 27, 2022

President Biden Signs Hirono Legislation to Support Native Hawaiian Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

Law enacted just days after new report shows more than two-thirds of Hawaii sex trafficking victims are Native Hawaiian


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Joseph R. Biden signed into law legislation led by Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) to allow Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence to access critical programs and resources provided by Congress through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The reauthorization of VAWA—which was signed into law in March, 2022—provides funding to Native Hawaiian survivors of all types of sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual assault, sex-trafficking, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. Senator Hirono’s legislation amends VAWA to ensure Native Hawaiian organizations are able to serve the Native Hawaiian community. The bill, which passed in the Senate unanimously last month, passed in the House on a voice vote earlier this month.


“Like other Native communities across the country, Native Hawaiians experience disproportionately high levels of sexual and gender-based violence,” said Senator Hirono. “Despite this crisis, Native Hawaiian women have long been unjustly excluded from accessing much-needed resources for survivors provided through the Violence Against Women Act.  This bill addresses this injustice and allows Native Hawaiian Organizations to better serve Native Hawaiians, and I’m glad the President has signed it into law. Now, Native Hawaiian organizations will have access to support and resources to serve the Native Hawaiian community and work towards eradicating sexual violence in our state.”


Native women across the country—including American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women—experience disproportionately high levels of sexual violence. Therefore, VAWA includes Services, Training, Officers Prosecutors (STOP) grants to provide funding for eligible Native-serving non-profits, including Native Hawaiian organizations, to help combat sexual violence and support survivors. However, due to an earlier drafting error in the law, while Native Hawaiian organizations were able to apply for STOP grant funding, they could not use the funds to actually serve the Native Hawaiian community. As a result, Native Hawaiian women have been unable to access critical resources included in VAWA. 


According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, more than two-thirds of sex trafficking victims in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian women and girls, and 37% of reported child sex trafficking cases in Hawaii are Native Hawaiian. Recently, the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women released the "Holoi a Nalo Wahine Oiwi" report, which further underlines the disproportionate impacts that sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and domestic violence have on Native Hawaiian women and girls.


Senator Hirono has been a vocal advocate for the Native Hawaiian community and efforts to combat violence against Native Hawaiians. Last month, she spoke on the Senate floor about the need to amend VAWA to include Native Hawaiian women. In August, she pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray to do more to protect the Native Hawaiian community from sexual exploitation at a full Judiciary Committee hearing and emphasized the need for the FBI to include the Native Hawaiian community in its efforts to address the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis and violence against Native communities. In May, she joined a resolution designating May 5th as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.