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Hawaii could be last state to enact sex trafficking law

    Ceremonies marked the beginning of the 28th Hawaii Legislature on Wednesday.

Hawaii legislators will consider a bill that would ban sex trafficking and treat people who are forced into prostitution as victims instead of criminals.

Some law enforcement departments in Hawaii are against the proposal because it could change the way prosecutors catch pimps, which is often by coercing an accused prostitute to testify against a pimp by offering to drop the charges against the prostitute.

“It’s a higher burden of proof, and it’s going to be more difficult to work the cases,” said Capt. Jason Kawabata of the Honolulu Police Department in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. Kawabata’s concerns were echoed by Honolulu’s Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, who said his department is already prosecuting pimps for promoting prostitution and has gone after 22 defendants in the last year.

The debate has split the state’s top prosecutors, with those from Kauai and Hawaii Island supporting the proposal.

“Really what we’re looking at is a fundamental shift in the way we approach these cases. And are we going to have this be a victim-centered model?” said Justin Kollar, prosecuting attorney for the County of Kauai. “Working with a victim and keeping them in custody as a hammer — there’s debate as to how ethical it is.”

The hope of not being prosecuted is not the only motivation for sex trafficking victims to testify against pimps, Kollar argued. They often also have a fear of physical harm or losing shelter, he said. “The prosecution part of it is comparatively small.”

The bill also would enable prosecutors to use wiretapping, adding a tool to their arsenals.

Advocates for the bill say those that have been forced into prostitution deserve to be treated like victims, not criminals.

“I think it’s quite disheartening that our government and state of do not feel the responsibility to take care of all of Hawaii’s children,” said Jasmine Choy, a mother and social work student. “We shouldn’t be behind the curve of everyone else in the nation.”

The House Judiciary Committee plans to make a decision on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

Here are two other items the Legislature will tackle this week.

— POLICE CONDUCT — Each county will be required to post its policies on officer-involved domestic violence on its official website in a bill to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

— HOARY BAT — A House Committee will consider whether the opeapea — also known as the hoary bat — deserves to be the state land mammal on Monday morning.

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