Hawaii’s governor has signed a bill making it easier for someone to remove a prostitution conviction from their record.
It’s the first state to drop the requirement that a person must prove that they were a sex trafficking victim to have such a conviction erased. Now, as long as the person is not convicted of another offense within three years, it will be cleared.
There are 1,500 to 2,000 victims of sex trafficking in Hawaii each year, and the average age of a sex trafficking victim in the state is 17, according to victim services provider IMUAlliance.
Supporters of the bill noted that sex trafficking victims can be misidentified by law enforcement. In addition, some are unable to disclose or prove that they are trafficking victims out of fear of retaliation from a trafficker or buyer, economic dependency on the trafficker or language barriers.
A criminal record makes it difficult for a sex trafficking victim to transition into “above-ground employment” and a “life free of stigma,” according to the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.
The Democrat-dominated State Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill this spring, and Gov. David Ige signed it into law Tuesday.
The measure was one of three bills supported by the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus and introduced as part of a package to address civil rights related to Title IX, prostitution offenses and domestic violence.
Anita S. Teekah, executive director of the anti-trafficking program for the victim services nonprofit Safe Horizon, said she is “heartened” by the new law.
“Passage of this new law now allows our clients and all individuals, whether they have been sex trafficked or not, to access basic resources such as housing, sustainable economic and vocational opportunities needed to develop self-empowerment and reduce the risk of re-trafficking,” Teekah said in a statement. “This is a good first step to ensuring justice and a path forward for the most vulnerable and criminalized in our society.”