Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro wants harsher sentences for prostitution crimes and plans to refocus his department’s efforts on pimps and johns.

“The old focus was going after the prostitutes,” Kaneshiro said at a Tuesday news conference. “We’re changing the focus. We’re going after the johns. We’re going after the demand for prostitution. If you take away the demand, you can reduce the amount of prostitution that occurs in this community.”

Kaneshiro’s legislative package calls for stiffer sentences across the board through three major changes to anti-prostitution laws:

  • Upgrade witness security and protection for victims and witnesses in promoting prostitution cases by mandating the Attorney General to give “greatest priority” to promoting prostitution cases when allocating funding for and provision of victim/witness protection and security.
  • Increase penalties for promoting prostitution by upgrading each degree of crime to the next level. Promoting prostitution in the first, second, third degrees will be upgraded to felonies.
  • Penalties against solicitors (“johns”) will be increased from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony if the offender has two or more prior convictions.

Kaneshiro acknowledged that some prostitutes may be victims. Existing law does not recognize some prostitutes as victims, but his legislative package would not change that.

Existing law is a two to 20 year sentence for promoting prostitution in the first degree with the use of force, or if the prostitute is under 18 years old. The prosecutor intends to upgrade the charge to a Class A felony, which requires a mandatory 20 years in prison.

For promotion of prostitution in the second degree, current laws define the charge as a Class C felony, which can result in up to five years in prison. Kaneshiro wants to make that a Class B felony.

“We recognize the seriousness of these conducts and we will increase the penalties for these conducts,” Kaneshiro said.

In terms of refocusing the department to target solicitors, or johns, the prosecutor said he’s employing the same tactic used to stop drug crimes.

“When you want to stop drug crimes, you don’t only go after the source of the supply, you have to go address the demand,” he said.

For “habitual” johns with two prior convictions, the third offense will be upgraded to a Class C felony.

Other Bills

Reforming prostitution charges isn’t Kaneshiro’s only focus this legislative session.

He also intends to toughen penalties for temporary restraining order violations if the person has a prior conviction for a violent crime against a family or household member.

He will add “killing” of a pet or animal without the consent of the owner to the list of acts that constitute cruelty to animals in the first degree. (Current law only addresses aspects like mutilation and torture.)

Kaneshiro will propose legislation to notify victims of an offender’s status. For example, victims will know if the offender is fit to stand trial or moved within the state mental health system.

He’ll also push for tougher sentences for elder abuse by upping penalties for crimes against the elderly.

Review a full list of all of the prosecutor department’s legislative bills.