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A bleached-blond prostitute wearing skintight leggings that didn’t quite cover her thong gave Waikiki tourists an eyeful when she squatted down on the sidewalk outside the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel to bargain with a leering Japanese man.
Young women wearing little more than 6-inch-high acrylic heels loitered along the fences and door frames of the hotels, shopping plazas and businesses in the state’s top tourist destination. A few worked the stretch of pavement from the Waikiki Trade Center to the Ohana East hotel, aggressively soliciting tourists and locals.
On Lewers Street near the bar where Ivanice “Ivy” Harris was last seen before her body was found last month, a statuesque African-American woman appeared to close a deal with a fat, balding middle-aged Caucasian man. About an hour later, she showed up near Big Kahuna Waikiki with an angry pink burn visible above her elbow.
Even on a slow Tuesday night in Waikiki, it was business as usual for the after-hours sex trade, which came to life at about 9 p.m and ramped up into the wee hours.
“The general public probably doesn’t realize the scope of the problem,” said Maj. Jerry Inouye, commander of the Honolulu Police Department’s Narcotics/Vice Division. “The public tends to notice street prostitution because of the dress and conduct of street prostitutes. However, prostitution also occurs via the Internet and at massage parlors and hostess bars.”
A 22-year-old former prostitute who worked in what she calls “the game” for about eight years before being rescued two weeks ago, estimates 120 pimps and up to 100 girls frequent Waikiki.
“Some are on the track, but most are advertised online or in social media. They’re in cars, bars, houses, apartments or hotels,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published because her traffickers are still at large. “I should probably be one of those people who does hotel reviews. Hilton, White Sands, Ohana West, I’ve been in them all.”
State legislators this year passed four bills with tougher penalties for people who coerce or solicit others for prostitution, while adding protections for prostitutes, especially minors. Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed one bill into law; the others await his action. If he does not signal his intent to veto by June 24, the bills will become law with or without his signature.
SIGNED INTO LAW BY GOVERNOR
>> Act 53: Adds solicitation of prostitution to the list of offenses that are ineligible for deferred acceptance of guilty plea, by which a defendant can have the offense erased from his or her record if he or she complies with conditions set by the court.
>> Senate Bill 192: Makes soliciting someone under the age of 18 for prostitution a class C felony with a minimum fine of $2,000; adds other offenses and penalties for coercing or soliciting a minor for prostitution.
Source: Hawaii Legislature
She said the success of tourism in Hawaii, particularly in Waikiki, has made it a destination of choice for pimps and sex traffickers, who earn big bucks selling young flesh.
“I know one pimp that pulls in no less than $20,000 a night,” she said. “There’s no other business where you could do that except maybe selling drugs, but it’s more dangerous than pimping — you are more apt to get caught.”
State lawmakers, who already have increased penalties for pimps, are fighting back again.
This year, they passed four bills that seek to end the consumer demand for prostitution that drives the sex-trafficking industry, while expanding services for prostitutes, especially minors.
One of the bills, which became Act 53 when it was signed into law in April by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, adds solicitation of prostitution to the list of offenses that are ineligible for deferred acceptance of guilty plea, by which a defendant can have the offense erased from his or her record. The other three bills await action by Abercrombie.
“Act 53 was necessary to strengthen the law so that all participants in the crime are held accountable, including those who solicit services,” Abercrombie said. “This is an important step in addressing and deterring human trafficking in all its forms.”
Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, a nonprofit on a mission to stop human trafficking in Hawaii and the Pacific, said passage of this law should be a significant deterrent for “johns.” However, Xian said Senate Bill 192, which she called the session’s most important anti-prostitution bill, is also needed to address rising child sex trafficking.
The two other pending bills, House Bill 1068 and HB 1187, also are needed to help children who are often misidentified as “delinquents” and “runaways” get services and protection, Xian said.
“Ignoring their exploitation would be the highest form of negligence and moral insensitivity that our state could commit,” she said.
“We’ve assisted 99 victims of trafficking since 2009.”
Abercrombie must notify the Legislature of potential vetoes by June 24. After that, bills not approved by the governor by the July 9 signing deadline become law without his signature.
Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) said he expects the anti-prostitution measures will become law, with or without Abercrombie’s signature.
“These are good bills. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t pass,” Espero said. “We didn’t get any negative feedback.”
HPD and Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro joined advocacy groups such as PASS, the IMUA Alliance, Courage House and Equality Now in supporting the reforms.
“By partnering with other law enforcement agencies and community groups to fight human trafficking, HPD hopes to increase the number of successful prosecutions against pimps and others who advance or profit from prostitution,” HPD Maj. Inouye said.
Kaneshiro said he supports the passage of SB 192 because it adds solicitation of a minor, defined by law as someone under the age of 18, to the state’s list of class C felony offenses.
Currently, anyone who solicits minors is charged with a petty misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail. “That’s equivalent to staying in a park after hours,” Xian said.
But if SB 192 becomes law, Kaneshiro said, those who solicit minors will face fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 and up to five years in jail. They’ll also be subject to forfeiture laws and having their names added to the state’s sex offender registry. The fine for petty misdemeanor solicitation, which does not involve a minor or a repeat instance, would double to $1,000.
“The changes highlight the seriousness of the offense. SB 192 is a particularly important bill when it comes to protecting children,” Kaneshiro said, adding that the proposed laws are part of an ongoing effort to shift prosecution’s focus from prostitutes to habitual customers and pimps.
Despite prior reforms that offer protections to prostitutes and toughen penalties for pimps, Kaneshiro said it’s still difficult to get prostitutes to report crimes. So far this year, HPD has arrested 35 men, 39 women and two juveniles for solicitation.
“We’re not where we need to be yet. We don’t have as many cases reported as are out there,” Kaneshiro said.
Inouye said police have had two cases so far this year in which women arrested for prostitution agreed to identify their pimps and assist in prosecution. In the first case, police arrested the pimp and his “assistant.”
“We are still looking for the pimp in the second case; he will be arrested for promoting prostitution when he is located,” Inouye said, adding that police also are seeking the pimp of a juvenile runaway whom they rescued from prostitution and reunited with her family.
Kaneshiro said advocacy groups have told him victims don’t want to cooperate because they fear reprisal and legal consequences.
“We need to get the word out that if they are a victim and they are involved, we can give them witness protection and immunity from prosecution,” he said. “We have done that in other cases; it’s worked very effectively for organized crime.”
In the meantime, Kaneshiro and other supporters hope SB 192 is made law and that together with Act 53 will reduce the number of customers who go to prostitutes.
“Hopefully, the higher penalties will be a deterrent,” Kaneshiro said. “We saw an immediate decrease in the number of car break-ins in the 1990s when unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle became a felony.”
The case of Ivanice “Ivy” Harris, who disappeared May 16 in Waikiki and whose body was found four days later in Waianae, underscores the need for immediate action, said Espero, the state senator.
Harris, of Portland, Ore., was in the companionship-for-hire business, said a friend, Jillian Gibides. She had arrived in Hawaii on May 7. Police have not released information on what led to her death.
Harris’ death “shed light on this issue of prostitution and the impact that it can have on people,” Espero said. “It’s up to the government, law enforcement and the community to say that we don’t want this element in our state because it degrades women and hurts minors.
“We need to be proactive so tourists and the world know that Hawaii is not the place for prostitution or human trafficking. Some places have that reputation and we don’t want it here.”
The visibility of prostitution in Hawaii already has given the state a black eye, said Bulla Eastman, corporate director of safety and security for Aqua Hospitality.
“You’d have to be blind not to see what’s going on,” Eastman said. “Visitors have mentioned it on TripAdvisor and it’s all over social media.”
Melody Young, a Waikiki resident and property manager, said prostitution also is the talk of Waikiki’s residential community.
“We actually had a prostitute living in our building,” Young said. “She’d stand outside at 5 a.m. picking up clients. One night we had 12 cops here chasing two of her pimps. Another prostitute also tried to run her over with a car because our prostitute had used her heels on a job and she was pissed.”
Inouye said it’s not uncommon for other crimes such as narcotics offenses, robbery, assault, theft and even homicide to accompany prostitution.
The young prostitute who was recently rescued said fear is a constant part of the lifestyle.
“My pimp used to hit me bad. He broke my bones and left a stab mark,” she said. “Eventually, he grew tired of me and sold me to another pimp for $7,500.”
The woman said she was in Waikiki on May 16, the morning Harris disappeared.
“It could have been me. You can have your security guard or your pimp or runner watching you, but they aren’t in the room and there are things that can happen that they can’t prevent,” she said. “People need to wake up. The reality is this business is no joke. There are super bad people out there.”