Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series investigating how the Honolulu Police Department enforces Hawaii’s prostitution laws.

Keith Kaneshiro

Keith Kaneshiro

Honolulu prosecutors say prostitution laws are being more aggressively enforced, and police are making more arrests on weekends.

“The police are very active in investigating these cases,” said Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. “Now they do arrests on Friday and Saturday nights.”

The issue came up during a recent mayoral debate. Mayor Peter Carlisle insisted that the city was “vigorously” prosecuting men who solicit sex from prostitutes.

Civil Beat has been tracking how Honolulu police handle prostitution offenses because concern about sex trafficking in Hawaii has run high in recent years.

Earlier this year, our Cops, Prostitutes and Pimps series investigating the Honolulu Police Department‘s handling of Hawaii prostitution laws showed that enforcement of prostitution had been falling off in recent years. Police made fewer than half as many arrests in 2011 as they did five years ago. The series also revealed that there was virtually no enforcement on weekends; fewer than 1 percent of arrests in 2011 were made on weekends.

But HPD’s arrest log for June indicates an uptick in prostitution-related arrests, at least for that month. The log shows that 30 people were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in June, more than any single month in 2011. None of the June arrests were recorded on a Saturday, but three arrests took place between 12 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. on Sundays. Last year, cops made no prostitution arrests on Saturdays and just two arrests on a Sunday, and both of those were on the same day at 10:40 p.m.

Police also made 12 arrests on Fridays in June. That’s nearly half as many Friday arrests in just the one month as were made during all of 2011.

“It’s my understanding their schedule has been altered so they do work Saturdays,” said Deputy Prosecutor Kyle Dowd, who handles all prostitution cases for the city.

But the Honolulu Police Department says that there has been no change in policy.

“Our experience is that prostitution occurs on every day of the week and is not necessarily concentrated on the weekends,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in an email.

Sex trafficking victims advocates say they haven’t noticed a major change in enforcement efforts.

“We don’t see any difference,” said Kathy Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. “But we’re very hopeful that the prosecutor’s office will succeed eventually in ending the demand.”

Focusing on Demand

More men than women were arrested last month, possibly reflecting the prosecutor’s increased focus on johns. In June 2012, 18 men were arrested compared to 12 women. In June 2011, by comparison, 10 women were arrested and 9 men. Overall last year, there were 118 females arrested compared to 96 males.

Kaneshiro told Civil Beat that police and prosecutors are increasingly targeting the “demand side” of the equation — meaning johns, or people who solicit prostitutes — as well as the “supply side” and the overall business of prostitution.

From Jan. 1 to June 12, there were 70 cases involving johns, according to a disposition summary compiled by the prosecutor’s office.

There were no trials and none pleaded guilty. There are 42 cases that are still pending, three no contest pleas, three dismissals, and 22 deferred acceptance of no contest pleas — a plea available to first-time offenders allowing the charge to be expunged as long as defendants remain arrest-free and pay off fines and fees within a six-month period. All of the 22 deferred pleas were granted by a judge over the prosecutor’s objections.

The prosecutor’s office started compiling the data this year, and two months ago Kaneshiro assigned Dowd to handle all prostitution-related cases.

Kaneshiro said the data tells him the court treats most john cases like other first-offense crimes, giving them a second chance through a deferred plea.

“We knew that would happen,” he said. “But now what it does is put that guy into the category of the next offense, if there’s a conviction, the third one will be a habitual. And the deferred pleas will count as a prior.”

Indeed, deferred pleas appear to be just as common today as they were two years ago when Civil Beat first looked at prostitution sentencing. Two other things that haven’t changed are most johns are local men, and enforcement is limited to downtown and Waikiki.

New Laws Not Used Much Yet

The Legislature in 2011 gave Kaneshiro three new tools to fight prostitution, but he said they haven’t gotten much use yet. One of those was making prostitution a felony for habitual johns.

Kaneshiro said he expects the new habitual johns law will be utilized more in the future because it requires proving someone solicited sex at least twice within 10 years.

The other two new tools are stiffer penalties for promoting prostitution — a law targeting pimps — and an improved witness protection program that can cover prostitutes who are identified as victims and are willing to testify against their pimps.

The word is out about the witness protection, Kaneshiro said, but only a couple have taken advantage of it.

“We can’t force people to talk,” he said.

Many prostitutes lack permanent addresses, so if they’re arrested or implicated in a case, they just disappear, Kaneshiro said.

“The main thing we don’t have that would make a difference is the prostitutes coming forward as victims and cooperating with us. If we have that, then we have other tools,” Kaneshiro said. “For example, if we’re told by the prostitute, ‘Oh yeah, this is a business. I’m working for him. I was coerced. I’m underage.’ Then we can do our investigation, go after bank records and do a racketeering case and shut down the business enterprise. But we need to have that witness, that victim, come forward.”

These bigger cases take time to put together, he said, but have greater impact on overall crime.

Xian, the victims advocate, said prosecutors won’t land a big sex trafficking case by just arresting prostitutes and hoping one of them turns witness.

“They will never get a sex trafficking victim if they arrest the girl. It’s just too intimidating,” she said. “The girls are incredibly reluctant to cooperate with them.”

Local law enforcement needs to change their approach, she said.

Dowd described the “peaks and valleys” that the arrest log shows. He noted a big influx last month in arrests of johns due to a police operation in Waikiki.

“It does take time to organize, especially if there’s going to be undercover women, pulling them from their different departments to set up operations,” Kaneshiro said. “If there’s a decline, it’s not because the police don’t want to do it. It’s because of operational, logistics, and you have to consider things like overtime costs.”

The prosecutor’s office has also taken note of a trend in more domestic violence cases related to prostitution.

“As we analyze the cases, we started seeing that some of these victims are not just housewives, they’re actually prostitutes who are living with their pimps,” Kaneshiro said. “We’re trying to look at the bigger picture and bring things together and put it in the proper perspective in how we prosecute these cases.”

It matters because of the penalties, he said. If a woman says she was coerced into prostitution, for instance, it could be a felony instead of misdemeanor.

“We’re focusing on addressing the overall crime problem … so it’s not just a revolving door,” he said.

Mayoral Candidates Weigh In

The focus on johns seems to mirror concerns expressed by Honolulu’s mayoral candidates. Ben Cayetano, Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell all addressed the issue of prostitution in a May 23 debate.

Cayetano said the city should deal with the problem by starting to arrest and prosecute johns.

Carlisle, a former prosecutor, said the city is already prosecuting johns vigorously.

Caldwell said it boils down to enforcement, installing more cameras and putting more “boots on the ground.”

“The people in Waikiki, in fact, have been asking for this to happen,” he said. “It has not happened yet. I think it’s something that’s way past due.”

—Sara Lin contributed to this report.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author

Comments