Hawaii's Prostitution Laws
Why should Hawaii's prostitution laws be reformed?
APLE believes laws should further some legitimate interest of the community and not simply harass citizens designated as outcasts. Criminal prostitution laws are a hold over from an era when there were laws against sodomy and adultery, and debtors were sent to prison. Today laws against prostitution are defended on the grounds that they keep prostitutes from walking the streets and offending people who don't want to see them there. However, these laws are ineffectual at preventing prostitution and in fact, make it more difficult to address the harms of prostitution since they simply drive the problems underground.
What do the different terms such as legalization, defacto legalization, and decriminalization mean?
Decriminalization means a simple repeal of existing criminal laws. Prostitution would be legal in that it was no longer illegal. In such a model prostitutes and their customers would not be subject for arrest unless they engaged in other illegal activities such as assault or theft. Pimps and others who abuse and exploit prostitutes would still be held accountable for their harmful actions. Legalization refers to setting up a regulated system of prostitution such as is now seen in Nevada. "Defacto" legalization means a regulated system is set up without bothering to remove laws forbidding such a system. Between 1930 and 1944 Hawaii had a defacto legal system of prostitution. Prostitution laws existed, but the police and the military regulated brothels in the Hotel Street and River Street area.
So how can neighborhoods keep prostitutes from creating trouble in their area?
The so called "prostitute free zones" ballyhooed by the government were designed to force prostitutes out of certain parts of the city. This attempt at zoning created new problems because there was no clear idea where prostitutes would go when they moved. Instead of prostitutes working in commercial areas late at night many moved into quiet residential areas where noise and other issues bothered residents. The government has not come to grips with the simple fact that illegal activities cannot be effectively zoned. Only the establishment of legal zones could be effective as a zoning measure.
Isn't decriminalizing prostitution an untried and potentially problematic idea?
No. Regulated legal prostitution, defacto legal prostitution, and unregulated non criminal prostitution have been widespread throughout history. Pacific neighbors Australia and New Zealand and many countries in Europe and Asia have legal systems of prostitution. Among US states only Nevada has no state law banning prostitution, but it should be remembered that Hawaii had de-facto legalization until 1944.
Would bringing back the regulated system Hawaii had during World War II be a good idea?
There are many advocates of a regulated brothel system. It tends to allow communities to keep the industry from spreading into unwanted areas. Generally problematic are the working conditions for prostitutes. Regulations seldom take their well being and individual rights into consideration. In Hawaii's system the police made such rules as a prostitute may not visit Waikiki Beach, patronize any bars or better class cafes, own property or an automobile, have a steady "boyfriend", marry service personnel, attend dances, and so forth. Substantial fees were paid by the brothels to the vice squad. The chief of police had to give his permission to anyone who wanted to open a brothel.
Many prostitutes chaffed at the arbitrary rules made by the police. There was actually a three week strike. The military supported much of the demands for change the working women demanded and the strike was settled largely in their favor.
APLE is not in favor of systems of prostitution that deny persons working in this industry the rights enjoyed by other citizens.
How should prostitution be addressed to protect the community?
We should first recognize that the current criminal model has done nothing to protect the community. It has wasted valuable police resources, harmed persons working in this industry, created opportunities for official corruption, and done nothing constructive to create the type of zoning that communities seem to desire. Off street prostitution that goes on in massage parlors, hostess bars, and through escort services already is subject to the same business rules and zoning that the government can apply to all businesses. Streetwalking can be zoned out of residential areas if alternative areas are available. The criminal laws don't help.
What about public health concerns? Shouldn't prostitutes be routinely tested for sexually transmitted diseases?
You don't need laws to ensure public health. No one has a greater vested interest in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases than prostitutes. Hawaii has a very good system of health outreach workers providing STD counseling and prevention to this population. Hawaii's prostitutes have a low rate of disease. There is no need to force people to take basic precautions that may save their own lives. It is the clients who most often insist on practicing unsafe sex and who usually are the vectors of transmission to sex workers, not the other way around.
What about the clients or "Johns"? Aren't they the source of this whole industry? Why don't we just arrest them?
Johns are the source of the industry, but that doesn't mean they should be arrested either. In the first place unless they assault or otherwise abuse a prostitute they are engaging in a consensual act. If the prostitute feels compelled to meet a quota by a pimp or is in need of money to feed a drug habit arresting her customers will most likely cause her to turn to thievery or other acts much worse for society than prostitution. By eliminating the current prostitution law it should become easier for prostitutes to report to the police when they have been abused by a john or a pimp.
What about the effect of prostitution on tourism? Shouldn't we worry that too many prostitutes in Waikiki will harm our visitor industry?
There are some tourists who don't like seeing prostitutes just as there are others who patronize them. To our knowledge no scientific study of visitor attitudes towards this industry has ever been done. It does seem troubling that a society would be willing to imprison people simply because they don't fit into some other person's marketing plan.Don't prostitutes offend people by soliciting them for sex on the street?
Yes, but this is no more a crime than the hundreds of other types of solicitation we are all subjected to. Women receive unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances from men as a routine part of their lives. Why is it that when a woman does the soliciting the "offense" is so unacceptable that she should be sent to jail?