HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is the only state in the nation without a law that specifically bans sex trafficking, but current legislation that focuses on protecting victims aims to finally change that.
HB1902 passed out of conference Friday and will move on to a final reading in both houses on Tuesday.
Kathryn Xian, executive director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, works sex trafficking victims and their families. She says the bill is long overdue.
"We're doing things in a victim-centered way that we don't criminalize the people who are exploited in this horrible trade," Xian said.
The bill would classify sex trafficking as a violent crime, making it a class A felony. If the prostitute is a minor, the offense is labeled as a violation.
It goes on to establish a class C felony for anyone who pays for sex while knowing the other person is a victim of sex trafficking and penalties are increased against sex traffickers. The bill also expands the Department of Attorney General's Statewide Witness program to include sex trafficking.
Hawaii News Now spoke with the mother of a 15-year-old sex trafficking victim. To protect her privacy, she asked us to hide her identity.
"There is not a second that I'm constantly thinking about her and it consumes most of my time," the mother said. "How do you expect a minor, who has been out on the street and pretend as if they're older adults, then once you finally catch them, how are you even able to bring them back to who they were?"
State Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored the bill. "It starts to recognize the fact that most under aged kids that are in prostitution are not there voluntarily," Rhoads said.
A similar bill was vetoed by Gov. David Ige in 2015 due to late changes that challenged the effort's effectiveness. But this time around, advocates are sure it will pass with the support of the attorney general's office.
"The victims are the ones who are suffering and it's not just the sex trafficking victims, but the families of the victims that have to go through this," Claudia said. "This law, this bill, is a peace of mind for us."