REPORT FROM THE PACIFIC ALLIANCE TO STOP SLAVERY – During the 2013 legislative session, the State Legislature passed four bills to combat human trafficking in Hawaii. If signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, these measures will help stem the consumer demand for prostitution that drives the sex-trafficking industry, while expanding services for victims of coerced prostitution and labor trafficking.
The most important legislative victory for anti-trafficking advocates, this year, was passage of Senate Bills 192 and 194, which together form a comprehensive “end demand” legal package. SB 192 creates the new offense of solicitation of a minor for prostitution, graded as a class C felony that carries a minimum $2,000 fine. The bill, which applies to the protection of minors under the age of eighteen, also extends the statute of limitations for civil remedies related to coerced prostitution to six years, expands asset forfeiture laws to cover an increased range of solicitation offenses, and adds solicitation of a minor to the state’s list of crimes subject to the sex offender registry. Similarly, SB 192 (signed into law on April 26 as Act 53) makes all solicitation of prostitution crimes ineligible for deferred acceptance of a guilty or no contest plea.
“Though it may sound callous to the casual ear, sex-trafficking is a business, albeit an illicit one, that operates on the principles of free enterprise,” said IMUAlliance legislative director Kris Coffield. “One of the most effective means of stifling exploitation, then, is to target the johns who subsidize the commercial sex trade by increasing the penalties associated with paying for sex, thereby hiking the opportunity cost of soliciting prostitution.”
“Hawaii comes several steps closer to effectively addressing the exploitation of children and the ending of the demand for prostitution and sex-trafficking.” said Kathryn Xian, Executive Director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. “We are intensely committed to creating the important policy changes that will ensure the safety of Hawaii’s keiki and abolish the trend of selling women and children for money. These crimes have no place in these islands and are diametrically opposed not only to the Hawaiian culture but to healthy living for all.”
Legislators also passed House Bills 1068 and 1187, which respectively mandate the display of a human trafficking hotline poster in establishments at high-risk for sex-trafficking and amend the state’s “child abuse and neglect” and “harm” definitions to include child victims of human trafficking, ensuring that such children receive proper legal attention and adequate support services.
“These measures are similar in their emphasis on extending victim services and raising awareness,” said Coffield. “One bill gives all victims, regardless of age, a number to call if they’re being exploited, while the other mandates reporting of suspected child trafficking by qualified professionals and makes explicit the protections that are already implicitly afforded by the state’s human services and family court codes.”
“The latest research from the state’s Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division shows that a majority of what PASS defines as ‘high risk victims’ for human trafficking are being criminalized and incarcerated in the juvenile justice system as repeat runaways or other status offenders,” said Xian. “HB 1187 will start us in the right direction that we need to be to decriminalize children for justifiably running away from abusive or neglectful homes and help the state recognize these children as in need of services, not incarceration.”
These measures will undoubtedly help Hawaii shed its reputation for being a human trafficking haven, as evidenced by Shared Hope International giving the state an ‘F’ grade in 2012 for lacking protections for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. At the same time, advocates recognize that there is more work to be done in future years, including the passage of laws targeting online advertising for sex-trafficking, establishing a presumption of innocence for minors arrested for prostitution, and implementation of a unified protocol for victim service providers.
“Every day, approximately 300 ads for prostitution related to Hawaii are posted online, amount to about 100,000 ads per year,” said Coffield. “Traffickers use the secrecy of the Internet to hide their crimes, which makes criminalizing online prostitution advertisements a top priority.”
“Prostitution and sex-trafficking are not victimless crimes,” said Xian. “ they are crimes created by a gendered paradigm that lulls the privileged to view its victims as complicit counterparts to sexist hegemony. But, that will begin to change thanks to these new laws, affording the public new lenses by which to view these crimes for what they truly are: human rights violations against women and children.”
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.