Honolulu, HI

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

With a population of over 375,000, Honolulu is Hawaii’s largest city.  Prostitution has been a visible and persistent problem in the city for decades.  Sex trafficking has become a growing concern in recent years, and several adult and child sex trafficking cases have been reported. Organizations, including the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (P.A.S.S.), have debated with state lawmakers about reforming existing trafficking laws.  In June 2013, the Governor signed four bills related to human trafficking into law, including one that focuses on demand:  Senate Bill 192 makes solicitation of a minor for prostitution a Class C felony, makes the minimum fine for the offense $2,000, and extends the statute of limitations for from two to six years. It also requires that those convicted of the crime be required to register as a sex offender and also subjects their assets to forfeiture.

The Honolulu Police Department currently uses a wide range of tactics to address the issue, including several strategies that target commercial sex buyers. The city began conducting reverse stings as early as 1997. Over time, operations have expanded to include web stings and shaming (wherein arrestees’ names and identities are released to the public). After arrest, courts may also impose SOAP orders on offenders requiring they stay away from areas of the city known for high levels of prostitution activity. There have also been efforts to deter sex-buying through public education, the use of surveillance cameras and neighborhood patrols. Because of the high volume of tourists involved in Hawaii’s commercial sex trade, the Honolulu Police Department has contended that auto seizures and “john schools” cannot be implemented effectively, since many buyers do not own cars locally or would be out of state for any post-arrest programming.

In March 2014, a controversy emerged over state laws that allow male police officers to have sexual contact with prostituted persons as an investigative method.  A focus on arresting buyers, rather than trying to arrest prostituted for little purpose, would eliminate the need to use such questionable tactics.

A Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in 2018 would allow people convicted of soliciting prostituted persons during a three-year period to try to clear their records. From 2013 to 2016, state law allowed different penalties to be issued for those caught receiving money for sex and those who paid for it. Prostituted persons were allowed to try to get the charge cleared from their records while people who solicited them could not seek a deferred sentence. Advocates for sex trafficking victims had supported the law allowing for different penalties, arguing that prostitutes are victims of exploitation and/or trafficking, while those paying for sex are offenders and thus deserve harsher penalties. The state Supreme Court found that the law was unfair.


Key Sources

State Hawaii
Type City
Population 375571
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