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Sex trade victim wants harsher penalty

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During the summer of 2009, a Honolulu teenager agreed to meet a man she met on a social networking Internet site for what she thought was a business meeting after he told her he could help her financially.

The then-19-year-old was looking for a job to help her single mother of six support their family. She went to his apartment on Kapiolani Boulevard, where he held a gun to her head and raped her.

Yesterday, before legislators on the Human Services Committee, she struggled to speak through tears. The man, she said, forced her into prostitution every day for three months until she escaped.

"Being out on the streets was the worst and demeaning," she testified.

She said she lives in fear every day, hoping he’ll never find her.

"To have to relive this memory every day for the rest of your life, it’s hard," she said.

Yesterday’s informational briefing on human trafficking was organized by House Human Services Chairman Rep. John Mizuno in hopes several measures calling for protection of victims and stricter penalties against offenders will pass.

Among the measures are House Bill 576, which establishes sex trafficking as a Class A and Class B felony. Members of the Human Services Committee approved the measure yesterday, and it now will go to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

About 50 people attended the briefing, including state Public Defender Jack Tonaki and Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. Kaneshiro discussed House Bill 240, which calls for a witness protection program for prostitutes against their pimps (procurers). He also discussed measures that call for increasing penalties for promoting prostitution against pimps and johns (customers) as well as businesses that profit from prostitution. "If you would upgrade penalties for the current laws, it would be more effective," said Kaneshiro.

Kathryn Xian, spokeswoman for the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said it has been an uphill battle to get stronger penalties against sex trafficking passed. "We’re one of five states that do not have a stand-alone or a revised statute process defining human trafficking as a felony offense while protecting victims," said Xian after the briefing.

One woman who testified yesterday asked lawmakers to consider passing stronger penalties against pimps. In 2009 her 16-year-old daughter was forced into prostitution, she said. Now 18, her daughter is still coping. "When things like this happen to a young girl, it’s devastating, and it’s been really devastating to our family. We’re still broken," she said.

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