When transgender activist Tracy Ryan introduced state House Bill 1533, which would legalize prostitution, it sparked a negative response with convincing reasons.
Legalizing prostitution in Hawai‘i may have been proposed with good intentions, but the prospective bill would leave room for prostitutes to be exploited and ignores the connection between sex trafficking and prostitution.
Help in disguise
The bill that aims to decriminalize prostitution in Hawai‘i was originally proposed by Tracy Ryan to House Speaker Joe Souki.
“She's pushing the bill because transgender women in the sex trade are disproportionately impacted by criminalization laws,” said Ryan, a transgender activist.
Souki confirmed that he is not in favor of the bill, but would not reject advocacy from those who would like to see prostitution legalized.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years for all kinds of requests,” Souki said to KHON 2 News. “But it needs to go through the democratic process ... I have never said no to a citizen of the state of Hawaii who wants this bill to be heard.”
Ryan believes that this bill would grant protection to those who choose to become prostitutes.
“Prostitution is the way that transgender women have traditionally made their way in the world, not everyone but lots of them,” Ryan said to KHON 2 News. “If you’re a prostitute and somebody attacks you, it’s called a bad date. Who are you going to tell? You can’t go to the police. They should have the same rights to their health and safety protection as anybody else.”
On the issue of legalizing prostitution Ryan told the Washington Times, "I don’t like seeing people sent to jail that don’t belong there."
Hawai‘i city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro worries that this bill would hinder sex trafficking prosecutions.
“My concerns about the bill is that it would make it very difficult for us to prosecute sex trafficking,” Kaneshiro told KHON 2 News, “and for us to curb that problem which is an international problem.”
Worldwide, 40 percent of prostitutes are former child prostitutes who were forced into prostitution as a result of human trafficking or being a teenage runaway. In Hawai‘i, according to IMUAlliance, there are 125 high risk sex trafficking establishments.
Kaneshiro is not alone in sharing that sentiment. Kathryn Xian, the Executive Director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS), also spoke out about the bill’s potential to hurt those who become involved in prostitution against their will.
Xian told the Honolulu Advertiser that it “would be exponentially harder to prove violence in the industry. It would be almost impossible to prove any sort of labor abuse.”
Flaunting law regulations
The bill would also allow police officers to engage in sexual activities with prostitutes for the sake of investigations.
Up until 2014, Honolulu police officers had been permitted to engage in sexual activities with prostitutes while undergoing criminal investigations. The law was changed when reports of officer misconduct were released.
The state of Hawai‘i cannot allow the current bill to pass because it fails to take into account certain aspects of prostitution, including sex trafficking. If Hawai‘i wishes to legalize prostitution then it needs to ensure that there is no room for exploitation.