After months of apparent legislative stagnation, Hawaii has finally adopted a ban on human trafficking. Until this past Monday, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed bills that significantly increased consequences for offenders of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, Hawaii was one of four states without a law against human trafficking. The Hawaii Reporter quotes Abercrombie stating that the laws demonstrate Hawaii’s “commitment to end trafficking in human beings” and “send a strong message against exploitation of human beings in any context.”
This past year, the debate in Hawaii on the implementation of a new labor and sex trafficking law was heated. Proponents of the law argued that human labor traffickers, as well as pimps working in prostitution rings, were not duly punished for their misdeeds. As the Honolulu Civil Beat explains, because of Hawaii’s unique geographic position, it is much more difficult for victims of labor trafficking and sexual exploitation to escape to safety than in other landlocked states. The relatively lenient laws regulating trafficking compounded this problem. However, opponents of the bill argued that Hawaii’s existing laws are sufficient; some advocated merely strengthening these rather than making human-trafficking a felony offense. Some argued that increasing penalties concerning labor trafficking could hurt legitimate businesses who withhold pay from an underperforming employee; some non-trafficking related practices may become felonies if the law was not properly worded. To further complicate matters, this year Hawaii was dealing with the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history (against the labor practices of labor-contracting firm Global Horizons-three of the defendants have thus far plead guilty).
Ultimately, with the hard work and determination of many, including Vision2020 National Delegate Kathryn Xian, Hawaii was able to take an important step towards ending the illegal practices of human labor trafficking and sexual exploitation. With its new laws, Hawaii will be able to impose a stricter enforcement of the law as well as help protect victims and witnesses in human-trafficking cases. Xian states that “This is a major step forward. It reverses the tendency in law enforcement to blame the victims…What usually happens is law enforcement has to arrest the girls [for prostitution], which confirms what their pimps have been telling them: ‘Don’t trust police, they’ll just arrest you.” The hope with the witness protection is that prostitutes will be able to testify against the pimps without fear of facing severe penalties themselves.
House Bill 240 gives larger sex-trafficking offenses class A felony status, punishable by a 20 year prison sentence and lesser sex offenses class B felony status, punishable by a 10 year prison sentence.
- Additionally, House bill 240 gives witness protection to those involved in sex-trafficking cases.
- House Bill outlaws labor trafficking and raises many related offenses to class A and class B felonies.