REPORT FROM PACIFIC ALLIANCE TO STOP SLAVERY – On Monday, July 1st 2013, Gov. Abercrombie signed into law three bills combating human trafficking in Hawaii and increasing services for victims.

The most important of these measures is SB 192, which mints the offense of solicitation of a minor (a person under the age of eighteen) for prostitution, graded as a class C felony that carries a minimum $2,000 fine, while extending the civil statute of limitations for coerced prostitution to six years, expanding asset forfeiture laws to cover an increased range of solicitation offenses, and adding solicitation of a minor to the state’s list of crimes subject to the sex offender registry.

“We are very happy that lawmakers and this administration recognize that action must be taken to cut off the demand for child prostitution. Hawaii’s image has been tarnished by its failing grade in addressing child sex-trafficking, according to Shared Hope International, and these new laws take a leap in the right direction of righting these wrongs against our keiki,” said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS).

“Previously, a person soliciting a child for prostitution was guilty of only a petty misdemeanor under state law,” said Kris Coffield, PASS policy director and former legislative director of IMUAlliance. “Now, such predators will face consequences commensurate to the harm caused by their crimes.”

The “end demand” provisions of SB 192 work in tandem with a similarly focused bill, SB 194, that was signed into law on April 25 as Act 53. SB 194 makes all solicitation of prostitution crimes ineligible for deferred acceptance of a guilty or no contest plea.

“SB 192 and SB 194 were designed specifically to gut the underbelly of Hawaii’s sex-trade in women and children, an under-acknowledged problem that Hawaii has historically ignored, allowing patrons of prostitution and child-trafficking evade accountability,” said Kathryn Xian.

“All of the victims whom I’ve assisted have described being subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by johns, including being beaten, choked, burned, and raped, sometimes repeatedly. Put simply, solicitation should not be viewed as a nonviolent crime, but rather the economic basis for a violent cycle of victimization and oppression,” said Coffield.

Gov. Abercrombie also signed into law House Bills 1068 and 1187. HB 1068 mandates that high-risk sex-trafficking establishments, such as strip clubs, hostess bars, and massage therapy establishments display a human trafficking hotline poster that alerts victims and the public of how to seek help. HB 1187, in turn, amends the definition of “child abuse and neglect” and “harm” contained in state human services and family court codes to include child victims of human trafficking, ensuring that such children receive proper legal, medical, and social support.

“We have been struggling for policy change like this on behalf of our exploited keiki for years, to urge the state to recognize the justification of victims to receive services by definition, and not mis-identify them as ‘independent child prostitutes’ engaging in ‘survival sex’ – a previously widely accepted myth based on faulty data. There is no such thing as an ‘independent child prostitute.’ They are all controlled by traffickers,” said Xian.

“These are big steps,” said Coffield. “Placing posters in high-risk establishments provides essential information to victims living under slave-like conditions, while revising human services and family court codes will increase reporting and treatment of child sexual exploitation.”

Though these laws will help Hawaii improve its reputation for maintaining porous anti-trafficking policy, evidenced by Shared Hope International giving the state an ‘F’ grade on its most recent policy report card, advocates look forward to continuing to increase protections next by passing an anti-cybertrafficking statute, establishing a human trafficking special fund to subsidize victim services, instituting an affirmative defense for sex-trafficking victims arrested for prostitution, and streamlining support protocols for nonresident trafficking survivors.

“There is still more work to be done because there are still no state licensed residential services for women or children who survive human trafficking. These facilities are crucial in the healing process for the survivor and also in the effective and speedy prosecution of the traffickers and johns,” said Xian.

“Our goal is to continue shifting criminal focus from wrongfully accused victims to those who control and finance the local sex trade,” said Coffield. “To that end, we must prevent perpetrators from using the Internet to mask exploitation and give victims every chance to defend their actions, even if requires updating patriarchal, discriminatory legal procedures.”

The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS), is a Hawaii-based not-for-profit 501(c)3 whose mission is to stop Human-Trafficking in Hawaii and the Pacific. PASS provides services and advocacy for survivors of Human-Trafficking, education and training on the identification of victims of Human-Trafficking, and public awareness and prevention education for the greater community.