What a difference a year makes.

Lawmakers had such lackluster interest in human trafficking last year that at one point it looked like Hawaii would go another year as one of just four states without a human trafficking statute. It was a huge victory when advocates last session managed to get the Legislature to pass a labor trafficking law.

This year legislators are chomping at the bit, showing a lot of interest in seven new trafficking-related bills. One of them involves bringing the human trafficking discussion into the mainstream in a big way: introducing preventive education in Hawaii’s public schools.

“This is a very serious issue — and it’s not a partisan issue. There’s room for all of us to get involved,” said Sen. Sam Slom, one of 10 lawmakers who attended Monday’s legislative briefing.

“This is the ugly secret about Hawaii,” he said. “It’s something that I think far too often people in the community took note of and didn’t do anything about, or pretended it didn’t exist.”

Here’s a rundown of all seven proposals:

  • Education in public schools: A requirement that teachers instruct students for at least two hours about human trafficking, including how to identify victims and prevention strategies.
  • Safe harbor bill: Amends existing law to allow for more explicit identification of child sex trafficking victims. Advocates say many child sex trafficking victims are misidentified as prostitutes or runaways.
  • Vacating convictions bill: Allows prostitutes identified as victims of pimps to have their prostitution charges vacated. Advocates say this would help with victims’ reintegration into society.
  • Hawaii state plan: Develops a protocol for dealing with child sex trafficking victims. Advocates say there currently is none.
  • Mandatory reporting by health care facilities: Health care providers would be required to report suspected human trafficking victims they encounter to law enforcement. This would require violation of federal Health Information Privacy laws.
  • Mandatory posting of anti-trafficking hotline numbers in hotels: This would require hotels to post the National Anti-Trafficking Hotline and other resource phone numbers.
  • Creation of a statewide human trafficking steering committee.

More than 40 people packed the room Monday afternoon for the briefing, which was hosted by Rep. John Mizuno and Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland. Lawmakers heard more than two hours of testimony in support of continuing efforts to combat child trafficking in Hawaii, including gripping testimony from a mother who said her 16-year-old daughter was forced into prostitution in Waikiki.

“I thought she was a runaway. The police thought she was a runaway. The whole time she was being hurt,” said the mother, who Civil Beat granted anonymity because of an ongoing criminal investigation involving her daughter’s alleged pimp. “When we got her back, we found out in actuality that she was raped and beaten into submission.”

While representatives from the attorney general and Honolulu prosecutor’s offices observed the hearing, the Honolulu Police Department was noticeably absent.

But if Monday’s hearing was any indication, there will be many more opportunities for the police department to chime in.

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