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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Critics Question Ige's Sex Trafficking Veto
By News Release @ 2:34 PM :: 4371 Views :: Law Enforcement

GOVERNOR PLANS TO VETO SEX TRAFFICKING LAW WHILE VICTIM ABUSES PERSIST IN HAWAII

News Release from Shared Hope International, June 30, 2015

Arlington, VA—Yesterday, Hawaii Governor Ige held a press conference to announce his intent to veto SB 265 which could enact Hawaii’s first sex trafficking law. The Governor cited criticisms of the bill by opponents whose own conduct has been under scrutiny for harmful treatment of possible sex trafficking victims.

Hawaii is currently the only state in the nation that fails to specifically criminalize sex trafficking under state law. Compounding this gap in Hawaii’s laws is the fact that until last year, Hawaii law enforcement agents were permitted by statute to have sex with prostituted individuals for investigation purposes. Recently, in May 2015, news sources reported that Honolulu Police arrested 16 prostituted women during a sting and charged them with sexual assault, a serious sex offense punishable by one year in prison; one police officer reportedly took a woman’s hand and touched it to his own genitals so that he could arrest her. Prosecutors recently dismissed the charges not because they recognized that the arrested women were potential victims of sex trafficking, but instead because the charges could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Advocates have been appalled by this inappropriate and harmful response to possible sex trafficking victims.

Despite these steps backward in the fight against sex trafficking, Hawaii’s legislature made substantial advancements this legislative session as both the House and the Senate unanimously passed SB 265, which would be Hawaii’s first sex trafficking law if enacted. However, as the bill sat on Governor Ige’s desk, opponents in the same jurisdiction that conducted this raid and brought sexual assault charges against possible victims of sex trafficking asked Governor Ige to veto the bill, and he appears to have caved to the pressure from these groups, threatening Hawaii’s progress and victims’ access to justice. The Governor has until July 14 to either sign or veto. If he does neither and does not take any action on the bill, it will become effective without his signature. But, if he vetoes the bill, all of the legislature’s work this session will be destroyed, and Hawaii will retain its status as the only state in the nation without a sex trafficking law.

One of the most egregious inaccuracies in circulation is the claim that the bill makes it harder to prosecute juvenile sex trafficking by requiring prosecutors to prove additional elements, such as that traffickers knew the victim was a juvenile. As the following chart demonstrates, the bill adds no such requirement:

Current Law

A person commits the offense of promoting prostitution in the first degree if the person knowingly: …

(b) Advances or profits from prostitution of a person less than eighteen years old.

Proposed Law under SB 265

A person commits the offense of sex trafficking if the person knowingly: …

(b) Advances or profits from prostitution of a person less than eighteen years old.

Shared Hope International, Family Programs Hawaii, Ho ‘ōla Nā Pua, and IMUAlliance sent an open letter to Hawaii Governor Ige urging him to sign this critical piece of legislation. While the Governor’s decision to veto is based on various misinformation about the bill, the open letter to Governor Ige explains why this legislation is so important for Hawaii:

Hawaii and Maui County prosecutors and advocates have supported the 2015 state legislature in passing Senate Bill 265. Both the Senate and the House have voted to establish the crime of sex trafficking in Hawaii and strengthen Hawaii’s ability to combat this serious crime. This bill not only renames “promoting prostitution in the first degree” as “sex trafficking” but it makes a significant change to avoid stigmatizing victims and embody a national trend toward protecting rather than blaming victims. The bill also adds tools that aid enforcement and investigation. Contrary to claims by some opponents of the bill, SB 265 accomplishes much more than change “for the sake of change.”

Senate Bill 265 defines the crime of sex trafficking, recognizing that individuals exploited through commercial sex through “force, threat, fraud or intimidation” are victims of sex trafficking. Like 45 other states and the District of Columbia, this bill also criminalizes child sex trafficking regardless of whether any tactics of force, fraud or coercion were used. SB 265 ensures this crime will finally be acknowledged for what it is—sex trafficking—a severe and deeply harmful form of exploitation.

Shared Hope International, Family Programs Hawaii, Ho ‘ōla Nā Pua, and IMU Alliance have called on advocates to publically support the enactment of this crucial bill.

 

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