Keith Kaneshiro in his office

Keith Kaneshiro in his office

Sara Lin/Civil Beat

Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro says he hasn’t seen any evidence that Hawaii has a widespread sex trafficking problem.

In fact, a Civil Beat analysis of every Honolulu prostitution arrest made in a recent 12-month period revealed not one sex trafficking victim. But that doesn’t mean Kaneshiro’s going to stop looking: He plans to step up monitoring prostitution cases for signs of human trafficking.

“I’m not going to totally ignore the fact that there may not be a problem because there’s no evidence,” he told Civil Beat in an interview about its series, Cops, prostitutes and pimps. “We’ll look at it. I’ll assign deputies just to handle prostitution cases … to see if there is a problem.”

To better understand the scope of sex trafficking in Honolulu, Civil Beat for one year looked at prostitution arrests through the daily arrest log. Among our findings:

  • In one year, police made no prostitution arrests on a Saturday and just two on a Sunday
  • Police arrested just one pimp but did not charge him
  • Last year, the department made less than half as many arrests as it did five years ago

The mayor refused to comment on Civil Beat’s findings, telling us to take it up with the department. Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha refused two interview requests.

Victims advocates have complained loudly about HPD’s inaction on sex trafficking. They have sought state legislation to compel law enforcement to bring to light the problem, which they say is serious and widespread. But that opinion isn’t shared by federal law enforcement.

FBI spokesman Tom Simon told Civil Beat the high cost of travel to Hawaii makes interstate sex trafficking a rare problem.

“While we have seen isolated instances of pimps coming to town with teenage prostitutes over the years, we do not believe that the interstate transportation of coerced sex workers into Hawaii is currently an epidemic,” he said.

For his part, Kaneshiro reserved judgment on the scope of Honolulu’s trafficking problem, but reiterated that he has not seen the cases that would suggest it’s a huge problem here.

“I haven’t seen evidence of wide-scale human trafficking over here,” he said. “Now, that’s not to say there is no widespread human trafficking, what I’m saying is I haven’t seen evidence.

Kaneshiro added: “I think … the problem may be greater in other cities and on the mainland, especially places like Las Vegas. When we find evidence of that we’ll address it.”

And that’s where his deputies come in. They’ll watch the cases more closely and potentially drum up leads for trafficking.

He says his interest is in going after the heads of the organizations, not individual prostitutes or johns.

“My goal is to go after the people who profit from prostitution,” he said.

To that end, after Civil Beat started asking police questions about the lack of arrests of pimps, police sent Kaneshiro’s office the file on the only pimp arrested in 2011, a case he now says he’s going to review.


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