#sextrafficking | Editorial: Expand curbs on sex trafficking | #tinder | #pof | #match


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Editorial | Our View

Law enforcement is taking a much more strategic approach to investigating sex trafficking, and ultimately shutting down such operations. Rather than just pursuing those conducting the illicit transactions, agents are following the money.
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Law enforcement is taking a much more strategic approach to investigating sex trafficking, and ultimately shutting down such operations. Rather than just pursuing those conducting the illicit transactions, agents are following the money.

These businesses are illegal massage parlors that front for prostitution activity, and in which the workers are enlisted in what is tantamount to a slave trade. Human trafficking — in which laborers in agriculture or low-skilled jobs, or sex workers, are trapped through fraud or coercion.

The Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women is scheduled to release a report on illegal massage businesses. In January, it had published “Sex Trafficking in Hawaii,” a report on a cohort of girls and women interviewed on Oahu and Hawaii island.

They were brought into the operation at an average age of 14, mostly by people they thought they knew. Tales of physical and emotional abuse were common.

Their stories make it clear why sex trafficking is anything but a consensual activity and needs to be rooted out to the greatest extent possible. And the fact that these operations persist in Hawaii underscores how much room for improvement in enforcement there is.

In 2016, the state Legislature passed House Bill 1902, which defined the offense of “sex trafficking.” A Class A felony, sex trafficking can be charged if force, threat, fraud or intimidation is involved in pressing another to engage in prostitution, if someone profits from that kind of trafficking, or if someone advances or profits from prostitution of a minor.

These statutory changes were warranted, but so far have been insufficient to power an aggressive crackdown. Other approaches are essential.

A commentary published May 9 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser described some of the outreach to vulnerable youth established in recent years.

The writers, Meda Chesney-Lind and Nandita Sharma — Chesney-Lind a women’s studies professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and president of the American Society of Criminology, and Sharma a UH-Manoa associate professor of sociology — point to examples such as the Judiciary’s Girls Court and the state Health Department’s youth program Kealahou Services.

Other attempts now underway seek to intervene in the illicit sexual exploitation of youths at the point of the transaction. Star-Advertiser writer Rob Perez on Sunday chronicled a sting operation by federal and state investigators to catch adults seeking sexual encounters via internet or cell-phone contacts.

Sex trafficking will persist as long as there’s profit, so an intense pursuit of those holding the financial strings makes perfect sense, too.

John Tobon, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Honolulu, made a recent City Council committee appearance, outlining the red flags — financial clues to where the operations are located.

Tobon said he reached out to the Hawaii Bankers Association. Its executive director, Neal Okabayashi, said in a written statement that the human trafficking category is a recent addition in bank “suspicious activity” investigations, adding that its red flags “are vague and not as clear cut and obvious.”

That may be so, but Tobon said there can be billing evidence of residence at massage parlors. These signs should be pursued.

And given that Hawaii institutions filed only one trafficking report — the lowest total among the 50 states — something is undeniably wrong.

Other states seem to be doing better, and Hawaii has no choice but to do the same, if isle leaders intend to keep the sex-trafficking risks to youth down to a minimum.




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