Gov. Ige vetoes bill to ban sex trafficking

HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige has vetoed a bill that would have created a victim-centered approach to combating sex trafficking in Hawaii, citing concerns that changes to the law could make it more difficult to prosecute pimps, a claim that advocates for sex trafficking victims dispute.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige has vetoed a bill that would have created a victim-centered approach to combating sex trafficking in Hawaii, citing concerns that changes to the law could make it more difficult to prosecute pimps, a claim that advocates for sex trafficking victims dispute.

Ige said the state attorney general, several city prosecutors and the Honolulu Police Department recommended the veto. The governor said the bill as it was written is confusing, and Hawaii’s law already prohibits the behavior.

Until a year ago, police officers were legally allowed to have sex with prostitutes as part of investigations, a policy that state lawmakers changed last year after The Associated Press highlighted the law. Prosecuting pimps was extremely rare in Honolulu five years ago.

But since Hawaii’s human trafficking law was passed in 2011, prosecutors have brought 19 cases against 22 defendants, sending seven to prison, Kaneshiro said.

Critics say that’s an improvement, but the prosecutions were for lower-level pimps.

Advocates had been pushing for a victim-centered statute that offers protection and services to those who were forced into sex work instead of a system that treats all prostitutes as criminals unless they testify against their aggressor.

“By their definition, yes, taking away their ability to coerce these victims would make their method of proceeding through with the cases more difficult. But their method of doing things is archaic, sexist and re-victimizing,” said Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, who has been pushing for a ban on sex trafficking for a decade. The proposed law would have given law enforcement the ability to use wiretapping to investigate suspected pimps, she said.

Labeling a sex-trafficking victim as a prostitute can be damaging, said Kris Coffield, executive director for Imua Alliance, an organization that has helped about 200 victims in Hawaii in the last five years.

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Kaneshiro said those who testified against the pimps — including those who said they went into prostitution willingly — were treated as victims, and that they were able to clear their records.

Ige said in his veto message that law enforcement leaders will work together to review the law in the next year.

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