Equality Now Calls on Hawaii Legislators to Pass Strong Anti-Trafficking Laws in 2011 to Address Sex and Labor Trafficking

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18 January 2011

Lakshmi Anantnarayan, +1 212 586 0906, lanant@equalitynow.org

With the opening of the 2011 legislative session in Hawaii international human rights organization Equality Now urges legislators to prioritize the criminalization of human trafficking during this session. It is troubling that despite being a prominent destination for trafficking victims, Hawaii is one of only 5 remaining states in the U.S. that still does not have a comprehensive law criminalizing trafficking for purposes of labor or sexual servitude. The Hawaii state government has failed to pass an anti-trafficking law over the last five years and in 2010, former Governor Linda Lingle vetoed a bill that unanimously passed both houses of Hawaii’s legislature.

“For half a decade, despite the efforts of local anti-trafficking groups, Hawaii has been inexplicably delaying the passage of a human trafficking law, ignoring evidence that traffickers and pimps are committing brutal crimes on victims who have little or no recourse to justice in Hawaii. We urge legislators to ensure the passage of strong anti-trafficking laws in 2011 that will enable the prosecution of traffickers and protect survivors,” says Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now.

It is estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. each year. Moreover, tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are trafficked within the country. A majority of trafficking victims are women and children who are sold for commercial sexual exploitation. Hawaii is a prominent site of trafficking as evidenced by the recent FBI crack down on a dozen farms in Hawaii for what it called “the largest human trafficking case it has prosecuted in the U.S.” According to federal agents, Hawaii has one of the worst rates of child trafficking. Anti-trafficking activists in Hawaii assert that sex trafficking is a growing problem that rarely receives sufficient attention from law enforcement authorities.

The U.S. federal anti-trafficking law generally proves insufficient as a tool to prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases at the state level, in part due to the federal prosecutors’ limited resources and selective targeting of high profile cases involving multiple victims, or cases that focus solely on minors. Therefore it is critical that states pass adequate laws criminalizing human trafficking, to enable local authorities to identify cases and intervene appropriately.

To address sex trafficking in particular, the Hawaii human trafficking law must ensure a comprehensive definition of sex trafficking that recognizes the means by which traffickers entice or induce their victims into the sex industry beyond the limiting “force, fraud and coercion” threshold in the federal law. The new law must also focus on the demand for prostitution by establishing higher penalties for those who purchase human beings for sex. “Hawaii should follow in the footsteps of states like New York that have passed strong anti-trafficking laws that recognize the links between sex trafficking and prostitution, provide services to victims, and ensure that the whole line of perpetrators, from traffickers to pimps to the “johns”, are held accountable for the unspeakable exploitation of the most vulnerable among us. Trafficking is a scourge that will worsen if strong laws and political will to address this human rights violation are not in place,” continued Ms. Bien-Aimé.

January 18, 2011 - 13:15