People who benefit from the illegal sex trade are expected to be the target of new laws this legislative session, including a measure that would get tough on those who solicit prostitutes.

The Anti-Trafficking Task Force, comprised of lawmakers and anti-tracking activists, is pushing what would be the first sex trafficking law aimed specifically at pimps.

Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland and Rep. John Mizuno, who serve on the task force, are expected to introduce a handful of bills that could bolster sex trafficking prosecutions.

Currently, there is no law in Hawaii that addresses sex trafficking. Instead, individuals who traffic women are prosecuted under the “promoting prostitution” statute in Hawaii.

“Hawaii’s been a little late in dealing with sex trafficking and even labor trafficking laws,” Mizuno said.

prostitution pic, woman on a dark street

Anti-trafficking activists are hoping to reduce penalties for prostitution.

Civil Beat

The anti-trafficking task force hopes to change this.

Members of the task force said it’s important to view prostitutes as victims rather than criminals. Current laws are more harmful in the long run, they say.

“We say it’s not prostitution. Our position is that if there’s a minor or someone forced into sex trafficking, they shouldn’t be considered prostitutes,” Mizuno said. “They should be considered victims.”

The proposed legislation defines sex trafficking as a violent crime. Offenders of first-degree sex trafficking would face a $20,000 fine.

The fines would be allocated to a fund that provides emergency care at state facilities and residential treatment centers for minors. If passed, the proposed legislation would provide continuous funding for Ho’ola Na Pua, a residential facility for underage sex trafficking victims that is being built on the North Shore of Oahu. The shelter is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

The anti-trafficking task force hopes to decrease the penalty of prostitution from a petty misdemeanor to a criminal violation, something Mizuno says will be difficult to get through.

“Are we being soft on crime? That will be a contentious point,” Mizuno said. “Or are we providing protection for victims?”

A separate proposed “john law” would crack down on the demand-side of prostitution. The bill raises the penalty of solicitation from a petty misdemeanor to a misdemeanor. It also establishes a “john school” where offenders would attend a mandatory education program that provides counseling, such as education on sex trafficking and the health risks associated with prostitution.

Another bill addresses businesses that knowingly allow prostitution to occur on their premises by banning “permitting prostitution.” This bill targets massage parlors, hostess bars and other business that front as brothels.

Lawmakers on the task force also hope to push through a bill that cracks down on cybertrafficking by banning nude images in online advertisements. The bill bans the use of nude images in advertisements for high-risk sex trafficking industries such as massage parlors, relaxation parlors and escort services.

“I’m very excited about 2015,” Mizuno said, adding that “we know it’s not going to be easy.”

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