HONOLULU – Under Hawaii law, police officers may engage in sexual penetration during investigations into prostitution.

Senate Judiciary and Labor Chair Clayton Hee and his committee members are backing a request by sex trafficking advocates to put a stop to the practice through new legislation that also aims to strengthen Hawaii’s anti trafficking laws.

Kathryn Xian, head of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, and a Democratic congressional candidate for district 1, helped to draft House Bill 1926 Relating to Crime, which will be amended by the Senate by next Friday to prevent the practice.

Xian said the legislation, should it pass the full Senate and House and be approved by the Governor, will help protect victims of sex trafficking from police misconduct.

“There is no reason for law enforcement to use sexual penetration during the course of prostitution or sex-trafficking investigations,” said Xian. “Doing so opens the door to police misconduct and sexual assault of victims, while also hindering investigation of misconduct when it does occur.”

Xian has helped more than 100 victims of human trafficking, some she said endured unsolicited sexual actions by police.

Preventing child victims from being additionally traumatized by police abusing their power is Xian’s main focus.

“None of the survivors with whom I’ve worked have ever ‘cop checked’ a man to see if he was a law enforcement officer,” said Xian. “Pimps routinely tell victims, especially children, that police will take advantage of them, which this lapse in our law invites cops to do.”

The exemption in the law has garnered Hawaii international attention this week.

The Honolulu Police Department did not appear at the Friday hearing. Hee called the Department’s absence “deafening.”

Kathryn Xian is head of GirlFest and the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.

During an earlier House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, Honolulu Police Major Jerry Inouye asked committee members to keep the exemption.

“The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential. Because if prostitution suspects, pimps and other people are privy to that information, they’re going to know exactly how far the undercover officer can and cannot go,” said Inouye.

Those combating sex trafficking in Hawaii have had an increasingly difficult time stopping the practice and the number of victims is on the rise.

There are some 100,000 ads for Hawaii-based prostitution services posted online each year, including ads for massage, relaxation, spa, escort or body rubs. Many providing these services are Hawaii children.

Pimps looking to traffic Hawaii’s children in the sex trade are using social media such as Facebook to do research on the children and their friends and family before contacting them, and finding their victims at shopping malls and at the beach.

They are also using a network of children to bring other children as young as 11 years old into the sex trafficking trade. They are often recruited at school. The average age of kids who are recruited in Hawaii is 13 years old, Xian said.

Courage House Hawaii, another non-profit working to stop sex trafficking in Hawaii, has launched a new program in Hawaii’s public and private schools to teach children in middle school and high school about how to avoid becoming sex trafficking victims.

The organization has also initiated a capital campaign to raise money to buy a safe house on Hawaii’s north shore where child victims of sex trafficking can be rehabilitated.

Both federal and state law enforcement here acknowledge Hawaii has a serious sex trafficking problem.

Xian is one of several advocates for trafficking victims who has helped get laws passed during the last two previous legislative sessions to strengthen Hawaii’s anti trafficking laws and a number of bills she helped draft are being considered as well this session.

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