Hawaii needs tougher laws to crack down on child prostitution

Marcus X Arrington’s victim was only 16-years-old when he allegedly forced her into prostitution.

While she can’t be named because she is a minor, her story fits the profile of many others. She ran away from home hoping to escape its problems. Arrington allegedly promised to help, but instead brandished a handgun and forced her to work for him.

The girl’s services were advertised on Craigslist. The affidavit she later filed with police says that posting was answered six to eight times a day during a two-week period, earning Arrington between $6,000 and $8,000. To keep her in compliance, she says she was beaten and sexually assaulted by her captor.

In most U.S. states, these charges would constitute human trafficking. Through this fast-growing business, people are recruited and harboured for the purpose of exploitation. Victims are forced or coerced into activities like sex work. And, while many associate trafficking with smuggling people across transnational borders, the practice often involves citizens lured within their own borders.

But, Hawaii is one of eight states without a human trafficking law. If this were New York, Arrington would face up to 25 years in jail for this felony offense. Instead, he is charged with promoting prostitution, a crime that can be classed as a misdemeanor and carries a very broad sentence ranging from one day to ten years.

While federal human trafficking laws exist, these cases can take two years to build and authorities largely focus on large-scale rings. Experts say traffickers in Hawaii end up receiving a slap on the wrist if anything.

“It’s too huge for federal law to regulate. Logistically, it’s impossible,” says Kathryn Xian of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. “They are not the ones who are every day in the streets. That’s state police patrol.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to the trafficking business, which generates billions of dollars in profit each year and is the second largest criminal industry in the world. While numbers are hard to find, it’s estimated between 100,000 and 300,000 children in America are victims.

According to the Polaris Project, the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is between 12 and 13. Many are runaways who are attracted to a pimp’s promise of money and affection before it quickly turns to forced prostitution.

That’s something Xian says is rampant in Hawaii due to the state’s less stringent laws and abundance of wealthy travelers.

“The traffickers are mobile and crafty. And, the price is lower on the mainland. You can charge $500 per hour in Hawaii because of the clientele,” she explains. “Now we have significant numbers of 24-hour massage parlours popping up in droves without any ability to be regulated.”

Police in Hawaii must rely on promoting prostitution to prosecute offenders. Charges often come through undercover operations where police pose as Johns and answer ads on Craigslist. Traffickers are charged based on their arranging the meeting. But, because the girl is actually the one who makes the transaction, she too is arrested.

This means the enslaved girl is actually being charged with the same crime as her trafficker.

Xian says New York State’s law is more comprehensive. By specifically naming sex trafficking as an offense, they created a separate law for abusers with sentences of up to 25 years in jail. Previously, offenders faced two and a half to seven years. It also required victims receive rehabilitation services.

Trafficking is still difficult to prove. It’s often hidden from public view and the violence under which victims live too often prevents them from coming forward. But, Xian says a human trafficking bill would give Hawaiian police a chance at distinguishing between trafficker and victim -and getting victims the help they need.

“Everyone is against human trafficking and slavery,” says Xian. “To affectively address it, we need to pass our own laws.”


Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 9:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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