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Prosecutor pushes governor to veto anti-sex trafficking bill

Hawaii's progressive sex-trafficking bill is in danger of being vetoed by the governor, at the Honolulu prosecutor's urging.

Governor Ige expressed his intent to veto eight bills, among them SB265, which would establish a victim-centered anti-sex trafficking law in Hawaii. In a press release, the governor stated that SB265 may create loopholes which could make the offense of sex-trafficking harder to prove than it already is.

But Kathy Xian of the Progressive Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS), a co-author of the bill, says that the governor’s statement comes at the behest of Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. “[He] wants to retain the ability to criminalize victims of sex trafficking to force them to testify against their traffickers, no matter how much danger that puts the victims in,” said Xian. “This is why he believes the bill to be ‘flawed’—because SB265 would restrict the prosecutor from using this ineffective and abusive tactic.”

In May, Kaneshiro was interviewed by Civil Beat, and stated his opposition to SB265 SD1 HD1 CD1, claiming that passing the sex trafficking bill would make it more difficult for prosecutors to prove the crime, compared to existing “Promoting Prostitution” laws (HRS 712-1202), which SB265 would replace.

According to Xian, the prosecutor based his claims and recommendation for veto on an older version of SB265, and not the final measure awaiting Governor Ige’s signature.

“The final version of SB265 SD1 HD1 CD1, does not make the offense of sex trafficking harder to prove for adult or child victims as the prosecutor erroneously claims,” Xian told The Independent.

The governor also stated that he will request law enforcement to draft a “better bill,” but PASS has stated that it believes the attorney general will fail in this regard and will, instead create a sex trafficking law for “cosmetic value” while maintaining the existing law, which charges sex traffickers under a “promotion of prostitution” clause, largely to appease the city prosecutor. “[The] statute uphold[s] a system which is far from victim centered or effective,” said Xian.

The original draft of SB265 was a product of a legislative working group coordinated by Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, which included members from the prosecutor’s office, attorney general’s office, various state agencies and service providers. The bill received support in both houses of the state legislature and was hailed as a positive step toward combatting Hawaii’s serious sex trafficking problem by both activists and victims of trafficking.