On June 26, 2012, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie approved Senate Bill 2576, relating to prostitution, which provides sex trafficking victims with a pathway for clearing their criminal records of convictions for crimes that occurred as a result of coercion into the commercial sex trade. Polaris Project, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, and IMUAlliance worked with prosecutors and lawmakers, including Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Sen. Clayton Hee, Rep. Marilyn Lee, Rep. Gilbert Keith-Agaran and Rep. John Mizuno, to pass this landmark proposal during the 2012 legislative session, giving victims an opportunity to overcome legal barriers to attaining a stable lifestyle. Hawaii will become the sixth state to enact a “vacating convictions” law.
James Dold, Policy Counsel for Polaris Project, hailed the measure as progress for victims’ rights. “With the passage of SB 2576 Hawaii joins 5 other states that are at the forefront of creating a victim-centered response to this terrible human rights abuse. The recovery process for victims of human trafficking on the islands will be that much easier as they will be freed from the social stigma and lack of economic and educational opportunities that resulted from unjust convictions for prostitution.” said Dold, who has worked on anti-human trafficking measures nationwide.
Throughout the legislative session, advocates argued that disclosure of criminal convictions, including misdemeanor convictions, is often required for employment, obtainment of student loans, and housing applications. A petty conviction can affect eligibility for professional licenses, child custody, food stamps, student loans, and health care or lead to deportation. In many cities, a misdemeanor makes you ineligible for public housing.
Since victims of sex trafficking and coerced prostitution are acting against their will, they should not be held accountable for their actions in a manner that could prevent the obtainment of stable residency, advanced education, or entry into and matriculation through the workforce, all of which are required for successful recovery from involuntary sexual servitude.
“This is a bold and necessary step towards ridding Hawaii of human trafficking and healing its survivors. Abolition of human trafficking starts with strong will, excellent legislative leadership, and humanitarian policy change. We applaud the lawmakers responsible for the passage of this measure.” maintains Kathryn Xian, executive director of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, Hawaii’s largest nonprofit services provider for survivors of human trafficking.
Passage of SB 2576 follows the enactment of Hawaii’s first anti-labor trafficking law, in 2011. State lawmakers also strengthened existing anti-prostitution laws by expanding witness protection for victims and targeting repeat solicitors, last year, in an effort to rectify Hawaii’s poor anti-trafficking legal record. Importantly, these new laws focus on demand for labor and sex trafficking, while increasing protections for vulnerable populations.
“Advocates are trying to shift Hawaii’s legal framework away from re-victimizing survivors,” said Kris Coffield, legislative director for IMUAlliance. “Passage of vacating convictions legislation consecrates last year’s efforts into a concerted movement toward treating pimps and johns as slave traders and giving victims back their voice.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has until July 10, 2012 to sign SB 2576 into law. If the governor does not sign the bill by July 10, it will become law without his signature.
Submitted by Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery