A human trafficking advocate and former victim herself will be Sen. Mazie Hirono's guest to the State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The senator announced that she would be bringing Kalei Grant, assistant coordinator of the Hawai'i Department of the Attorney General's Missing Child Center-Hawaii, to the annual event. Hirono told NBC News in a statement that she hoped Grant's presence could help raise awareness about the state's crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
"After healing from her own trauma, Kalei has been a steadfast advocate and has dedicated her career to combating human trafficking," Hirono, D-Hawaii, said in the statement. "Kalei's work and her advocacy are inspiring."
Grant has been working under the MCCH, a criminal justice program devoted to locating and recovering missing children in Hawaii, since 2018. But years before that, Grant was forced into sex trafficking by a man she met when she was 25 years old, a newly divorced military spouse at the time.
"He said he would kill me, my daughter, and grandmother if I didn't do exactly what he said, or if I tried to tell the police," Grant recounted in a speech during a Department of Defense National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month Awareness event in 2019.
Grant said that for two years she was forced to perform sex work. Her trafficker, she said in her speech, employed different tactics to ensure she and other women and girls would remain in the abusive circumstance.
"I wanted to be a woman who thrived in her career and lived as a human being should. But I was trapped in this terrible existence out of fear, intimidation, and threats to my life and the lives of those I loved," Grant said.
It wasn't until 2010, when Grant said her trafficker had brought her to the Superbowl in Miami, that law enforcement swept the area for human trafficking activity and caught him. And, she said, in her subsequent healing process, she decided to "dedicate my life to helping victims of trafficking to obtain help and services - everything I wish I had."
Sexual exploitation disproportionately impacts the Native Hawaiian community. A report from the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women showed that 43% of sex trafficking cases in the state involved Native Hawaiian girls trafficked in Waikīkī, O'ahu.
Grant's attendance to the presidential address Tuesday comes after Hirono spearheaded a bill that would amend the decades-old Violence Against Women Act, which increased funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services, to be inclusive of Native Hawaiian women. Services allocated to specifically help Native Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence were excluded in the original legislation, which passed unanimously in November.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
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