Hawaii: Legislation to End Sex Tourism and Hold Sex Tour Operators Accountable

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1 Mar 2004

Q: Is it true I could have sex with two girls at the same time?
A: Definitely YES!! That's the difference between spending $75.00 to $150.00, and having a FANTASTIC time!!! You can have as many as you can fit in your room.

—from Frequently Asked Questions on Video Travel's Ultimate Asian Sex Tour website.

Every May and November, Melvin Hamaguchi of Video Travel in Honolulu, Hawaii, leads sex tourists on his Ultimate Asian Sex Tour to Thailand, which he describes as “The Sex Capital Of The World!!” Mr. Hamaguchi provides customers with single occupancy rooms to “enjoy the sexual pleasures with the girl or girls of your choice….” He also promotes prostitution by advising tour members of the “places with the prettiest girls, lowest prices, and safest environments….” Mr. Hamaguchi further guarantees his customers “thousands of young beautiful half-naked [girls] both topless and bottomless dancing for your enjoyment hoping you will select them to spend the night with you….” For upwards of $2,395 per trip, Mr. Hamaguchi promises to “personally be your guide throughout your stay in Thailand” and provides his customers direct access to women in prostitution.

The acts of prostitution that take place on Mr. Hamaguchi’s tours are explicitly highlighted in Video Travel’s promotional materials. His website included information on the cost of prostitution and explained the “barfine” method of paying prostitutes, which requires payment to remove the woman from the bar where she works plus an additional “tip” to the woman for the sex purchased. The “tip” is given directly to the woman from whom the sex is purchased and is described as “expected” and “required”. The website also included descriptions of the sexual services available on an Ultimate Asian Sex Tour as well as explicit photos of Asian women engaging in sex with men. Mr. Hamaguchi’s activities constitute promotion of prostitution in violation of Hawaii Penal Law Division 5, Title 37, §§712-1201 through 1204, which provide that a person is guilty of promoting prostitution when he “knowingly advances or profits from prostitution” including engaging in conduct “designed to institute, aid, or facilitate an act or enterprise of prostitution.” Mr. Hamaguchi shut down the Video Travel website in November 2003 following media coverage generated by Equality Now and a protest outside Video Travel led by the Hawaiian local group Girl Fest/Safe Zone Foundation. Mr. Hamaguchi’s assertions to the press, however, that he no longer operates sex tours contradict his own statement to an Equality Now staff member posing as a potential sex tourist that he is in fact planning another sex tour for May 2004.

Mr. Hamaguchi operates his sex tours pursuant to a travel agent’s license issued by the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. In August 2002, Equality Now provided evidence from its undercover investigation of Mr. Hamaguchi’s promotion of prostitution to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and requested that it exercise its discretionary authority to revoke Mr. Hamaguchi’s license pursuant to Hawaiian law. Section 436B-19(12) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes provides for revocation of such a license upon the “failure to comply, observe, or adhere to any law in a manner such that the licensing authority deems the applicant or holder to be an unfit or improper person to hold a license.” Section 436B-19(9) provides as further grounds for revocation, “Conduct or practice contrary to recognized standards of ethics for the licensed profession or vocation.” Organizing sex tours is contrary to the codes of ethics of numerous professional tourism organizations including the World Tourism Organization. The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has not, however, revoked Mr. Hamaguchi’s travel agent’s license.

In November 2003 Equality Now called on Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett to prosecute Mr. Hamaguchi for promotion of prostitution. Despite the evidence provided to him by Equality Now, to date Attorney General Bennett has not commenced any legal action against Mr. Hamaguchi. Equality Now continues to press for prosecution.

The Hawaii State Legislature is now considering legislation, House Bill 2020, which has already passed in the Hawaii House of Representatives and in its current form would specifically make the promotion of travel for the purpose of prostitution a felony crime and grounds for denial or revocation of a travel agent’s license. Any drafting changes made by the Senate will have to be sent back to the House for approval. The bill states that prostitution and the related $1 billion sex tourism industry are “inherently harmful and dehumanizing, contribut[ing] to the trafficking in persons as does sex tourism.” The bill further recognizes that “discouraging sex tourism…is key to reducing the demand for sex trafficking” and states that among its purposes is “to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls exploited by sex tourists … In so doing, the legislation forcefully declares Hawaii’s unequivocal opposition to any form of sex tourism,” protecting women as well as girls from the harm of prostitution. Equality Now has submitted testimony in support of the bill.

While Equality Now believes that legal provisions already exist in Hawaii to enable prosecution of sex tour operators like Mr. Hamaguchi, this legislation will make it easier to commence both civil and criminal actions to shut down sex tour operator activity in Hawaii and could serve as a model for future state and federal sex tourism legislation.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Majority and Minority leaders of the Hawaii State Senate and House of Representatives asking them to support the proposed legislation prohibiting sex tourism (HB 2020 in its current form). Note that the passage of this legislation will simplify the prosecution of sex tour operators like Melvin Hamaguchi and could serve as a model for other states. Welcome the State of Hawaii’s efforts to eradicate sex tourism, and remind the legislators that sex tourism contributes to the trafficking of women and girls. Letters should be addressed to:

Senate Majority Leader Colleen Hanabusa
21st Senatorial District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 214
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: +1-808-586-7793
Fax: +1-808-586-7797
Email: senhanabusa@Capitol.hawaii.gov

Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings
25th Senatorial District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 221
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: +1-808-587-8388
Fax: +1-808-587-7240
Email: senhemmings@Capitol.hawaii.gov

House Majority Leader Scott K. Saiki
22nd Representative District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 438
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: +1-808-586-8485
Fax: +1-808-586-8489
Email: repsaiki@Capitol.hawaii.gov

House Minority Leader Galen Fox
23rd Representative District
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 318
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: +1-808-586-8520
Fax: 1+808-586-8524
Email: repfox@Capitol.hawaii.gov