HONOLULU (AP) – Hawaii on Tuesday became the first state in the United States (US) to remove a requirement that a person be a victim of sex trafficking to have a prostitution conviction erased.
Legislation signed into law by Governor David Ige tosses prostitution convictions for those who avoid additional convictions for three years, even if they can’t prove they have been victims of sex trafficking.
Victim advocates say most trafficking victims aren’t able to reveal or prove they’re victims because they fear their pimp or sex buyer will retaliate. They may depend on their pimp or trafficker for their livelihood. Ige called the proof of victimisation requirement “unrealistic”.
The legislation passed unanimously in the state House and Senate, which are both dominated by Democrats.
Nationwide, the average age someone enters the sex trade is about 13, advocates said. It’s similar in Hawaii, but advocates say trafficking is a bigger problem in the islands because of the large tourism industry and military population.
Tammy Bitanga was 15 when she was trafficked into the sex trade in Waikiki after running away from her foster home.
She met an older boyfriend who had her selling sex in Waikiki, then sent her to Alaska where she worked in gentlemen’s clubs and escort services. She left when she got a ride to the airport and a relative bought her a plane ticket back home. She now works for a non-profit that helps girls recover from being trafficked.