Editor’s Note: The following piece was written in response to another community voice piece highlighting anti-human trafficking bills before the Legislature.

A review of information circulated by anti-trafficking advocates quickly leads knowledgeable people to the conclusion that these advocates have little interest in the factual basis of the information they provide.

Seemingly any claim that supports the abolition of prostitution, no matter how absurd, is accepted and disseminated as complete fact. On the other hand contradictory evidence is swept under the rug.

A typical tactic is to circulate an alleged story of victimization and then hope that people will be too emotionally upset to notice the lack of rational connection between the story and the proposed solutions. These solutions often involve attacking harmless third parties.

These anti-trafficking advocates have been active in the legislature for several years promoting legislation. In 2010 it was a bill that could have made running a strip club subject to 20 years in prison.

Last session petty criminals who receive a kickback from a sex worker, such as a cab driver or bell captain, became subject to ten years in jail. This session a whole slate of bad bills were suggested. Most of them, including one that would have compelled school teachers to listen to a lecture from these advocates in order to retain their licensing, have died.

However three remain alive:

SB2579 waives prosecution for underage persons charged with selling sex. Despite worthy intentions what this bill actually does is put underage sex workers at a competitive advantage in the marketplace over adults. It is a wrong-headed way to approach the stated problem. Sex work must be decriminalized and zoned for adults so that communities such as Chinatown get relief and sex workers are no longer victims of law enforcement. Only then can better social services be provided and more enforcement efforts directed at abusive pimps.

SB2123 levies severe fines on a litany of entities that fail to promptly hang some poster about “human trafficking”. The fines run $100 per day and can add up fast for farmers and others who are to be targeted for required posting. This is unlikely to save anyone and is simply harassment.

SB2576 is discriminatory towards sex workers who are attempting to move on with their lives in the legal world, but are not “victims” as described by the proponents of this bill. It is particularly troubling in that transgendered women, who are about 100 times more likely to end up in prostitution than genetic women and are generally on the bottom of the social scale, will not be able to participate. I have never heard of a transgendered women claiming to be a trafficking victim. I have been involved with Kulia Na Mamo, a local non-profit organization that provided social services to transgendered women. It is a lot of work to help people move on from incarceration, drug addiction, and streetwalking. Leaving this group out of SB2576 is truly offensive.

Several years ago the legislature created a task force to review the human trafficking issue. After five years they determined there were no problems that needed further legislative action.

Anti-trafficking advocates had succeeded in persuading people at the legislature that they be included in the task force allowing them five years to present evidence for their ideas. The fact that their ideas were rejected doesn’t imply that the task force failed, but frankly that it succeeded.

Unfortunately, some legislators continue to give more credibility to these advocates than the professional members of the task force.

About the author: Tracy Ryan is the Executive Director of Harm Reduction Hawaii, is a non-profit whose mission is to educate and promote the use of harm reduction approaches to solving social problems, such as addiction and homelessness. Harm reduction treats people who may be involved in risky behavior with respect and uses their own motivations to reduce the potential harms associated with said behaviors. Ryan has almost twenty years of experience working with persons in the sex industry, their problems, and appropriate laws.

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