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

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1 May 2004

In an unprecedented move to combat sex tourism, the Hawaii State legislature passed HB 2020, an Act relating to prostitution, which the Lt. Governor signed into law, as Act 82, on May 19, 2004. The Act makes it a felony offense, with a sentence of up to five years in prison, to sell or offer to sell travel services for the purpose of engaging in prostitution and authorizes suspension or revocation of a travel agency registration for engaging in these acts. Many states in the United States have laws against promoting prostitution, which could be used to prosecute sex tour operators. Hawaii is the first state, however, to specifically criminalize the activities of sex tour operators. The new law recognizes the link between sex tourism and trafficking. It states that:

Prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing, contribute to the trafficking in persons, as does sex tourism. The low status of women in many parts of the world has led to a burgeoning of the trafficking industry. Discouraging sex tourism, which is an estimated $1,000,000,000-per-year business worldwide, is key to reducing the demand for sex trafficking . . . The purpose of this Act is to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls exploited by sex tourists . . . In so doing, the legislature forcefully declares Hawaii’s unequivocal opposition to any form of sex tourism, whether it is child sex tourism or sex tourism involving adults.

Equality Now’s ongoing campaign against sex tourism, and one sex tour operation in Hawaii in particular, inspired the introduction and passage of the new legislation. Video Travel, a sex tour company based in Honolulu, Hawaii, owned by Melvin M. Hamaguchi, was until very recently operating under license from the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. In August 2002, Equality Now filed a complaint with the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) of the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, requesting that Mr. Hamaguchi’s travel agency license be revoked on the basis that he is an "unfit person" to hold a license or be registered as a travel agent. No action was taken, but in April 2004 Mr. Hamaguchi agreed to the voluntary revocation of his license on other grounds, thereby forfeiting his ability to operate legally as a travel agent in Hawaii.

In November 2003, Equality Now also called on Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett to prosecute Mr. Hamaguchi for general promotion of prostitution, but no criminal proceedings have been initiated. In New York, where there are similar state laws on the promotion of prostitution to those in Hawaii, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer secured a criminal indictment against the owners/operators of Big Apple Oriental Tours, a New York sex tour operator, in February 2004. The amendment to the Hawaii Penal Code as a result of the new legislation will give a stronger mandate to law enforcement authorities to investigate, prosecute and convict sex tour operators for their criminal activities because it defines those activities typically engaged in by sex tour operators as promoting travel for prostitution. Further, by recognizing implicitly that the act of engaging in prostitution and the act of promoting travel for prostitution may occur in different jurisdictions, it makes clear to law enforcement authorities in Hawaii that they can prosecute the offense of promoting travel for prostitution, even though the act of prostitution itself may not take place in the State of Hawaii.

Equality Now supported passage of the Act, giving written and oral testimony delivered by local group Girl Fest/Safe Zone Foundation at both Hawaii State Senate and House Committee hearings. In March 2004, Equality Now launched its Women's Action campaign calling for Hawaii State legislators to support the Act, noting that sex tourism is a human rights violation and contributes to the trafficking of women and girls. Equality Now hopes the passage of Act 82 will inspire state legislation nationwide explicitly mandating the prosecution of sex tour operators and urges other states to follow the example set by Hawaii in similarly amending their own laws.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to Hawaii State Representative Marilyn Lee, the main sponsor of Act 82. Congratulate her on the success of her initiative to facilitate the prosecution of sex tour operators. Urge her to encourage legislators in other states to do the same. Please also encourage your own legislators to pass a law specifically criminalizing the activities of sex tour operators using Hawaii’s legislation as an example. The full text of the legislation is available on-line.

State Representative Marilyn B. Lee
Hawaii State Capitol, Room 421
415 South Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
Tel: +1 808-586-9460
Fax: +1 808-586-9466
E-mail: replee@Capitol.hawaii.gov