2015 Legislative Session is Here!

Over the last few years, Hawaii has taken significant steps toward addressing the issue of sex trafficking in its various communities.

Nevertheless, as we head into the 2015 legislative session, one issue remains unresolved: Hawaii is still without a comprehensive sex trafficking law that legally defines victims as victims, not perpetrators.

krisIMUAheadshotConsequently, this next session has the potential to be one of the most significant in Hawaii’s history, regarding this specific issue. One of the key forces behind this effort is Kris Coffield, the director and founder of the nonprofit organization, IMUAlliance. Originally created to bring the voices of college students into the policy-making process, IMUAlliance has evolved into a diverse organization that addresses a multitude of issues facing our local government.

Between November and June, Kris is heavily involved in creating legislation, spreading his time between everything from collaborating with the organization’s stakeholders to discussing bills with the state’s executive branch. IMUAlliance also holds general public awareness trainings and conducts investigative research. This research not only provides a platform for addressing survivors’ immediate needs, but also informs the legislative process.

Specifically, Kris says, “We are able to understand what survivors experience through firsthand knowledge of what the atmosphere in which trafficking occurs is like. We know how difficult it is to get evidence for arrest, so we craft proposals in a way that is unique to law enforcement. At a more visceral level, it informs our proposals in that you can’t help but be moved by your experience with survivors.”

Kris notes that last year, two bills in particular were significant in changing the legal sphere for survivors of sex trafficking: The first upgraded the offense for soliciting a minor and increased the penalty fine to $5,000, which goes towards services for survivors. The second eliminates the use of mistake of age as a defense for johns, which has been previously used to allow them to skirt conviction based on their subjective perception of a victim’s true age. Additionally, Hawaii now has a special fund for victim services, provided through fees assessed for those who solicit and profit at the victim’s expense.

Nevertheless, although organizations like IMUAlliance and Hoʻōla Nā Pua view those caught in prostitution as victims of sex trafficking, the vocabulary of current law only encompasses prostitution, which is misleading in its tendency to clump both victim and john together as joint perpetrators of a petty misdemeanor. Consequently, Kris emphasizes the necessity of creating a legal definition of sex trafficking, a paradigmatic shift which will identify victims as survivors of exploitation, rather than potential criminals. In addition to this, IMUAlliance’s other major projects include the creation of a cyber trafficking law, which is intended to make it difficult for people to create sex trafficking ads, as well as the implementation of funding sources and protocol for identified victims of trafficking.

Although Hoʻōla Nā Pua does not engage in lobbying, individual volunteers can support legislation such as these bills by submitting testimony as they go through the hearing process. By visiting the Hawaii State Legislature’s website during the 2015 session, individuals can look up current bills and choose to support, oppose, or submit comments. Far from being intimidating, the process of submitting testimony can be as simple as clicking “Support.”

Besides supporting specific laws, Kris recommends that individuals contact their legislators and affirm that sex trafficking is a global problem which impacts Hawaii’s communities. In light of the many issues presented to legislators each year, courteous and informative affirmation from constituents puts faces and stories behind a bill number. Through effective community support, our government can continue to make strides in bringing justice to those for whom freedom has been a long time coming.

Keep up to date with information about pending bills and the need for testimony by joining our mailing list and visiting our Legislation page.

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