Hawaii: last state without a sex trafficking law
Shared Hope International, Family Programs Hawaii, Ho ‘ōla Nā Pua, and IMUAlliance have sent a letter to Hawaii Governor Ige encouraging him to allow the enactment of SB 265, which would be the state’s first sex trafficking law.
Re: Enactment of Senate Bill 265
Dear Governor Ige:
We, the undersigned organizations, strongly urge you to sign SB 265 and enact Hawaii’s first sex trafficking law, a desperately needed piece of legislation. Hawaii is the only state in the nation that does not have a law specifically criminalizing sex trafficking, but this could change with your signature.
Hawaii and Maui County prosecutors and advocates have supported the 2015 state legislature in passing Senate Bill 265. Both the Senate and the House have voted to establish the crime of sex trafficking in Hawaii and strengthen Hawaii’s ability to combat this serious crime. This bill not only renames “promoting prostitution in the first degree” as “sex trafficking” but it makes a significant change to avoid stigmatizing victims and embody a national trend toward protecting rather than blaming victims. The bill also adds tools that aid enforcement and investigation. Contrary to claims by some opponents of the bill, SB 265 accomplishes much more than change “for the sake of change.”
Senate Bill 265 defines the crime of sex trafficking, recognizing that individuals exploited through commercial sex through “force, threat, fraud or intimidation” are victims of sex trafficking. Like 45 other states and the District of Columbia, this bill also criminalizes child sex trafficking regardless of whether any tactics of force, fraud or coercion were used. SB 265 ensures this crime will finally be acknowledged for what it is—sex trafficking—a severe and deeply harmful form of exploitation.
Contrary to claims that the bill would make prosecutions more difficult, the proposed law adds no additional elements of proof for the government to prosecute child sex trafficking cases. Sex trafficking would be a class A felony, the same penalty that currently applies under the promoting prostitution law. In addition, the bill adds a key enforcement tool—wiretapping, which would facilitate investigations of trafficking rings, especially those that operate as highly advanced criminal enterprises.
Moreover, SB 265 broadens victims’ access to justice by allowing anyone who is subjected to sex trafficking to bring lawsuits against their perpetrator(s). This change particularly affects child victims who currently would have to prove or allege coercion in order to pursue civil claims against those who trafficked them.
This bill accomplishes the important goal of clarifying the severity of harms inflicted on sex trafficking victims by correctly identifying the crime of sex trafficking. Language matters. Labeling victims of sex trafficking as prostitutes by criminalizing sex trafficking as an enhanced prostitution offense stigmatizes trafficking victims. Misidentifying sex trafficking as merely a prostitution offense obscures the realities of sex trafficking.
Advocates support enactment of SB 265, not as a formality but as a critical tool to fight against sex trafficking in Hawaii. Establishing a law that specifically criminalizes sex trafficking will serve as a fundamental cornerstone in that fight. Senate Bill 265 will enable Hawaii to more appropriately identify and protect victims, better hold perpetrators accountable, and shift societal norms to better reflect the realities of sex trafficking.
We urge you to sign Senate Bill 265 without delay to advance justice and restoration for victims of sex trafficking in Hawaii.
Shared Hope International, Family Programs Hawaii, Ho ‘ōla Nā Pua, and IMUAlliance