Police Investigate ‘Physical Threat’ Against Hawaii Sex-Trafficking Study Co-Author and Find…No Physical Threat

Screenshot of a bespectacled young woman in an office
Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, during a 2018 interview with Hawaii News Now (screenshot via Hawaii News Now)
Police say a purported threat of physical violence aimed at the director of Hawaii's Commission on the Status of Women was the product of miscommunication

The recent publication of a hyperbolic study that purported to show an “astronomical” level of demand for sex workers in the Hawaii was punctuated by an odd incident that prompted two law-enforcement agencies to investigate.

On Friday, September 21, officers from the Honolulu Police Department and the state sheriff’s office responded to a call regarding a purported threat of physical violence against Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of Hawaii’s State Commission on the Status of Women.

After investigating the incident, police concluded that there had been no physical threat.

But Hawaii residents may still be under the impression that there was a genuine threat of violence, and that it was prompted by the recent release of “Sex Trafficking in Hawai‘i Part 1: Exploring Online Sex Buyers,”  a controversial study co-authored by Jabola-Carolus and Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, an associate professor at Arizona State University.

Despite its alarmist title, the study had nothing to do with “sex trafficking” (a crime that federal law defines as “a commercial sex act…induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age”). Instead, the study focused on the online market for consensual commercial sex in the Aloha State.

The researchers tallied the responses they received from a couple of decoy ads they placed on the internet, then extrapolated the numbers to reach the conclusion that Hawaii is a hotbed of illicit sex, home to an “astronomical” number males looking to purchase sex.

Critics have faulted the report for its flawed methodology and broad assumptions, for conflating sex trafficking with prostitution, and for allowing the authors’ biases to influence the results.

See Also:
“Arizona State University Study of ‘Sex Trafficking’ in Hawaii Finds…No Evidence of Sex Trafficking in Hawaii”

Still, a September 24 segment that aired on Hawaii News Now (HNN) may have lent credence to the idea that the study precipitated a threat of violence directed at one of its authors.

HNN’s Mahealani Richardson reported that the alleged threat prompted a “lock down” at the state government building where the women’s commission is housed. In an interview with Richardson, Jabola-Carolus explained her theory that the release of the study earlier in the week provoked the incident.

“We received concern from the sex-trafficking-advocates community that there was a very serious threat — what was described as ‘imminent physical harm’ directed at me because of our commission’s recent publication of a…study that exposed the demand for prostitution in Hawaii,” Jabola-Carolus told Richardson.

Jabola-Carolus called the police and sent her staff home. Sheriffs escorted her from the building.

The executive director said her office had anticipated “pushback.”

“Some people feel the need to control our organization and our message through silence and attack,” she said.

However, in the end, the two agencies that investigated — the Honolulu Police Department and the Sheriff’s Division of Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety — found that the incident was the result of a miscommunication along the lines of the common children’s game known as telephone.

Each agency’s report is heavily redacted, but both describe a conference call among members of a Hawaii-based coalition against human trafficking on the morning of September 21. During the call, one of the participants mentioned having received a threatening text message that targeted Jabola-Carolus.

Read the law enforcement reports:
September 21, 2018 Hawaii Department of Public Safety incident report concerning Khara Jabola-Carolus

September 21, 2018, Honolulu Police Department incident report concerning Khara Jabola-Carolus

According to the sheriff’s report, the text was said to have conveyed that Jabola-Carolus was in “imminent physical danger.” When a couple of people informed Jabola-Carolus about the threat, she called the police, who advised her to report it to the sheriff’s division.

Investigators eventually caught up with the individual who received the text. That person, whose name is redacted, said she had not used the word “threat.” The text, the person explained, stated that owing to a news article about the study, some person or persons were “trying to get Jabola-Carolus fired.”

From the sheriff’s report:

She stated that her colleague from Arizona had sent her a text message about Jabola-Carolus, however there was no physical threat involved. [REDACTED] stated that her colleague from Arizona informed her via text message that Jabola-Carolus was receiving hate mail, derogatory phone calls, and that people were trying to get Jabola-Carolus fired from her job because of a news article about sex trafficking. [REDACTED] stated that she told the members [on the conference call] that they need to help Jabola-Carolus because she was being “attacked.” I asked if she was aware of any physical threats to Jabola-Carolus [to] which she said no.

The report does not identify the “colleague from Arizona.”

Reached by Front Page Confidential, Jabola-Carbolus declined to be interviewed about the incident or about the study. Calls and texts to Hawaii’s Department of Human Services, which oversees the Commission on the Status of Women, were not immediately returned.

Roe-Sepowitz did consent to an interview by this publication, wherein she admitted that her research is informed by her firmly held conviction that “prostitution, almost exclusively, is violence against women, or violence against the person who is involved in that situation.”

Judging from posts to her accounts on Instagram and Twitter under the handle, “Decolonize Feminism,” Jabola-Carolus also takes a dim view of sex work. She has supported that stance with quotes from historical figures, including revolutionary feminist Alexandra Kollontai.

Interestingly, during a political rally in Honolulu in August, she introduced Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from the Bronx. Ocasio-Cortez had come to stump for Jabola-Carolus’s partner, Kaniela Ing, a state representative who was running in the Democratic primary for Hawaii’s First Congressional District. (He finished fourth.)

On her published campaign platform Ocasio-Cortez states that she stands in opposition to “the criminalization of sex work.” She also reportedly opposed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which, when President Trump signed it into law in April, effectively made the online advertisement of prostitution a crime.

News outlets have reported that FOSTA is having a devastating effect on the lives of sex workers (not to mention freedom of speech). When asked in June about Ocasio-Cortez’s opposition to the legislation, her spokesman Daniel Bonthius told a HuffPost reporter, “It is important that we make a clear distinction between sex work and human trafficking.”

Jabola-Carolus isn’t running for office. But while warming up the crowd in Honolulu in August, she offered a revealing description of herself and her vision for her agency, which bills itself as an advocacy group for women’s issues.

“I direct the the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, which is a government agency that’s basically what I’ve been accused of being my whole life…,” she said. “The feminist police.”

About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

One comment

  1. Police Investigate ‘Physical Threat’ Against Hawaiian Sex-Trafficking Study Co-Author and Find…No Physical Threat – I’m so happy to see the hysterics, drama and trauma of sex trafficking researchers and authors exposed. It is about time. They have done more harm than good and I feel for the parents who have sought them out for help only to be fed a big dose of hysteria.

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