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Hawaii Becomes First State To Protect Victims Of Sex Trafficking Who Were Convicted Of Prostitution

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Hawaii became the first state to erase prostitution convictions for all victims of sex trafficking Tuesday.

Democratic Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed the legislation, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate, that rids victims of sex trafficking — even those who cannot prove they were trafficked — from prostitution convictions, so as long as they are not convicted of other crimes for three years, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Ige said requiring proof of victimization is “unrealistic” due to victims’ fear of retaliation from their former pimps or sex buyers. (RELATED: Here’s How Many People Were Arrested On Sex Trafficking Charges Ahead Of Super Bowl)

Previously, AP notes, sex trafficking convictions could be erased after six years, but only with proof of victimization.

Research by Ashleigh Kline, president of Michigan State University College of Law’s Anti-Trafficking Legal Advocacy Society found that under earlier U.S. law, “a victim could only prove trafficking in one of two ways: (1) if they were under eighteen years old (automatic trafficking consideration), or (2) if they could prove coercion (an extremely difficult task).”

“In reality, [prostitutes] are often a product of years of abuse and self-deprivation,” she continues. “Early Swedish studies found that ‘prostituted women often had deprived childhoods, were neglected, and early on were deprived of a sense of self-worth’. These studies also found ‘a strong association between child sexual abuse and prostitution.'”

“Many prostitutes find their way into the profession either by an individual directly forcing them or by some form of physical and mental abuse used to exploit their vulnerabilities,” Kline notes.

Executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women Khara Jabola-Carolus told the AP that 80% of women involved in prostitution in Hawaii were trafficked into the job. (RELATED: Human Trafficking Investigation Leads To Four Raids On Businesses)

About 44% of trafficking victims are under the age of 17, according to a report from the Polaris Project, a non-profit that operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The report also notes, however, that a 2015 study by the Department of Justice recorded a median age of 15 among victims.

“People like to think it’s a victimless crime, but that’s a myth that seems like it’s never going to die,” Vice President of Policy and Research at the National Center for Sexual Exploitation Lisa L. Thompson told USA Today in February.

“Every man who buys sex from a woman in a brothel or any of these establishments — they have contracted out the job of violence, intimidation or coercion to a pimp or brothel owner,” Thompson continued.

Democrat Hawaii state Sen. Laura Thielen told the AP, “In 2019, the days of the scarlet letter are over. People who have been in prostitution should not have an onerous burden on them once they leave that job, to be able to vacate their record and be able to have access to other employment.”

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