High Rates of Sexual Abuse in Hawaii -- Particularly in Indigenous Population

An Interview With Marie-Claude Julsaint

My name is Marie-Claude Julsaint. I'm with the World YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] in Geneva, Switzerland. I'm the program director for the Americas and the Caribbean region.

What are you presenting here today in the poster session?

This is the work of the YWCA of Kauai, part of YWCA USA and its work on prevention of sexual violence and integrating HIV prevention into that work.1

Can you tell me what you found?

Marie-Claude Julsaint
Marie-Claude Julsaint

What they found in Kauai is that one out of four young girls is a victim of sexual assault. For the boys, it's one out of six. Rates are very high on the island, so the YWCA is doing a lot of work around giving information, but also counseling, around violence against women, but sexual violence more precisely.

How do you educate children who are experiencing sexual violence? Who gets educated? Is it parents or children? How does that work?

The information goes out to everyone, but we focus mostly on young people, and also the parents, and women because the YWCA works with women and girls, in general. Also, only 31% of the cases get reported because of the fear and stigma surrounding sexual assault on the island. We need to get the information out there, so that people feel open about speaking out about what they've experienced and getting proper counseling.

Can you tell me why the sexual assault rates are so dramatically high among this population? One in four girls, one in six boys and only 31% reported cases seem like very high rates. Do you have any idea why that's the case?

I think when we look at the conditions, social economic conditions, in terms of lack of employment and poverty -- because this is a vulnerable population -- I think those are some of the reasons why violence is so high.

Did you find that there were any particular risk factors, where children of certain economic backgrounds, or certain ethnic backgrounds, were more or less at risk?

It is true that the indigenous population on the island is, I would say, the most vulnerable population in terms of sexual assault. So yes, the work of the YWCA targets this population.

How was the prevention information disseminated?

Because we're working with adolescents, young people, the prevention work is done through theater, dance, and activities of the sort that would attract young people -- doing it in a fun way.

What is the age group?

The age group is between 15 and 24.

Can you give me an example of what a typical program would look like and how that would incorporate both HIV prevention and assault prevention?

To be totally honest, YWCA has just recently integrated the HIV prevention work into the domestic violence and sexual assault work that they've been doing for many years. This has been done in partnership with Malama Pono, an organization that does a lot of HIV information. This is how we've been working -- with programs that already exist in the communities that people are familiar with. We have been working in partnership with other organizations that have more expertise in HIV prevention.

Why is it useful to combine these programs? What is the connection between childhood sexual assault and HIV infection?

We know that there are links between HIV infection and violence, whether it's violence against women, sexual violence or domestic violence. It's important to give that information, first of all, to prevent HIV; but also, those that have been victims of sexual assault need to know that they can have counseling and testing.

Because people who are victims of sexual assault, you're saying, might be at greater risk of acquiring HIV as adults?


Thank you so much.

You're welcome.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


  1. Baumung L, Julsaint M.-C. Sexual violence prevention education. In: Program and abstracts of the XVII International AIDS Conference; August 3-8, 2008; Mexico City, Mexico. Abstract TUPE0647.

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