Advocates push sex trafficking bill, some sex workers oppose

HONOLULU (AP) — Jeanne Kapela says her cousin was 14 years old when she ran away from an abusive home and ended up forced into sex work in Waikiki. Kapela, who holds the title Miss Hawaii 2015, spoke at the Legislature in support of a bill to ban sex trafficking on Tuesday.

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HONOLULU (AP) — Jeanne Kapela says her cousin was 14 years old when she ran away from an abusive home and ended up forced into sex work in Waikiki. Kapela, who holds the title Miss Hawaii 2015, spoke at the Legislature in support of a bill to ban sex trafficking on Tuesday.

“Two years ago I sat in my kitchen and watched my cousin cry and cry and cry as she told me her story about the four years she spent as a child sex slave on the streets of Waikiki, after running away from home because her stepfather was sexually abusing her,” Kapela told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I will never forget the day she told me her story. I will never forget the fear or shame in her eyes.”

Hawaii is the only state in the nation without a law that specifically bans sex trafficking. Human trafficking is banned, but currently, people who are paid for sex work can be prosecuted under the law, regardless of how they got into the sex trade.

The bill would classify sex trafficking as a violent crime and make it a class A felony. In the most recent version of the bill, a person commits sex trafficking if they promote or profit from sex work performed by anyone under 18 years old. Compelling a person into sex work by force, threat, fraud or intimidation also would be considered sex trafficking under the bill.

Doug Upp, who told lawmakers that he’s an occasional sex worker, testified against the bill, saying there should be a greater distinction between sex workers who engage in sex acts for money willingly and those forced into the trade.

“I’m treated well and have gotten to travel,” Upp said. “Sex work suits me. I had one client who flew me to Europe at least three summers in a row to stay in luxury hotels.”

But advocates told stories about victims whose fates were far worse, and they said banning sex trafficking in Hawaii is long overdue.

Kathryn Xian, executive director for the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said she’s currently working with five victims of sex trafficking who are under 17 years old.

Kris Coffield, executive director of Imua Alliance, described working with a 17-year-old victim who had been kept on a leash and fed dog food by a pimp.

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“The problem of sex trafficking in Hawaii in 2016 looks the same as it did in 2015,” Coffield said.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary delayed making a decision on the bill until March 30.