Anti-human trafficking advocates say Hawaii is the last state to ban sex trafficking and it’s time for change.
Legislators are considering Senate Bill 265 that would treat people forced into prostitution as “victims” instead of “criminals.” Still, some say it’s unnecessary.
There is currently no law in Hawaii that directly addresses sex trafficking. Pimps who traffic women are prosecuted under the “promoting prostitution” statute.
Some say these laws aren’t victim-centered, so this Senate bill would establish a sex trafficking ban in the state.
“If this bill doesn’t pass, we endure the embarrassment of having to be the last state and prolonging the status in nation to pass a sex trafficking law,” says Kathryn Xian, Executive Director with Pacific Alliance, an anti-human trafficking organization established in 2009.
Xian says Hawaii is a hub for sex trafficking and it’s about time the state establishes a ban.
Currently, johns (customers) and prostitutes are criminalized under the same law.
Xian says a female working in the sex industry currently receives no legal protection, even if she is there against her will. “But this is an age old paradigm we are dealing with,” she says. “The social stigma as well as the systemic bias against prostituted persons is very sick. It’s something most other states has realized is not working with regard to obtaining true justice for these survivors.”
The proposed bill will provide protection against those forced into prostitution, and crack down on the johns seeking sex.
Similar bills have failed in the past.
Xian says certain law enforcement officials want to continue forcing victims to stand trial against their abusers. “They use the criminality aspect to coerce them into standing trial. They say ‘OK, if you testify against your trafficker, we won’t charge you with this crime.’ That is not victim-centered.”
“Protected from what?” asks Tracy Ryan, Chair of the Libertarian Party of Hawaii. “I mean it’s a criminal offense, if they wanted to protect them, they should take away the criminal offense. That should be step one.”
Ryan says the proposed bill’s priorities are wrong. She believes there should be more funding for social services for those trying to exit prostitution.
She says prostitution should be “decriminalized,” and that lengthening prison terms will only cost taxpayers money. “The bill is unnecessary, reinforces harms in terms of length of sentencing. I think it’s a bad idea.”