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Hawaii’s prostitution and human trafficking laws just got a lot tougher.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed four bills into law this year — three on Monday — that increase services for victims and heighten penalties for those who solicit prostitutes.
No longer just a petty misdemeanor, soliciting sex from a minor is now a felony that carries a minimum $2,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Lawmakers also closed a big loophole in how “johns” who pay prostitutes are charged.
Prostitution involving adults is a petty misdemeanor, allowing many johns to opt for what’s called a “deferred acceptance of guilty plea.” If defendants stayed out of trouble for a six-month period, paid fines and fees and avoided other arrests, the charges were dropped and their records expunged.
The plea was basically a “slap on the wrist,” said Kathy Xian, the executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery and the driving force behind the bills.
The johns were using the plea for multiple offenses – and they could use it repeatedly, she said.
Thanks to Senate Bill 194, that’s no longer an option. Prostitution offenses are no longer eligible for the deferred acceptance plea.
After a drawn-out fight in the Legislature, Hawaii got a human trafficking law in 2011. Meanwhile, victims of sex trafficking and prostitution were made eligible for witness protection in order to testify against their pimps.
Xian attributes the change in attitude to new leadership at the city prosecutor’s office.
“Keith Kaneshiro has really taken a step toward really wanting to bust the traffickers and end the demand,” she said.
Still, police at times appeared to have adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward prostitution.