Community / Prostitution has been a part of life in Downtown Honolulu for many years. Hookamakama was the Hawaiian term referring to sailors seeking amorous ladies during their ship stops in the Hawaiian Kingdom. After converting to Christianity, Queen Kaahumanu sought to end the practice but encountered much resistance.
Today, more than 5,000 people live, work or cruise through Kukui Plaza’s two 38-floor condos bordering Nuuanu and Kukui streets. Until recently, dozens of prostitutes pounded the pavement on Kukui Street from early mornings to late at night, watching out for Honolulu police. On a busy day, prostitution stings on Oahu arrested as many as 500 prostitutes, including the recent arrest of President Obama’s close high school friend for allegedly soliciting a prostitute on a fake online escort website, according to police reports.
For more than a decade, Kukui Plaza residents and neighborhood volunteers participated in a Citizen’s Patrol that walked around the Chinatown area once a week for more than an hour to observe and report illegal activities. They often marched into the Chinatown Police Substation on Maunakea Street to check on the status of broken video cameras installed in the station to monitor criminal activity. “It pays to complain,” says 74-year-old Delores Mollring. “We don’t sit on our butts and wait for politicians to solve our problems.”
In 1998, after a young man was murdered during a turf war over prostitution on the corner of Nuuanu and Kukui Street, Chinatown residents said enough is enough. “It made people realize the problem was even worse than we thought,” says Lynne Matusow, secretary of the Downtown Neighborhood Board. “It galvanized our community like never before.”
For residents awakened by gunshots on the night of the shooting, the criminal activity became a platform that brought the problem to light and showed that more was needed to fight the problem.
A week after the shooting, the manager of Kukui Plaza took a video from the garden deck of the building that captured about 15 prostitutes continuing to ply their trade on Kukui Street.
In 2006, Rep. Karl Rhoads, who lives in the area and was an active member of the Citizen’s Patrol, was elected to the State House, District 28 (Palama, Chinatown, Downtown, Lower Makiki and Sheridan). In less than five years, he has helped pass major state legislation benefiting the district, including two significant bills in the 2011 session related to prostitution crimes. Both bills will be in effect when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference convenes in Honolulu in November 2011, at which time government, tourism and law enforcement officials expect a rise in prostitution activity and sex trafficking due to the influx of some 20,000 attendees.
HB 240 amends section 28-101 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, authorizing the attorney general to include prostitution cases as a crime of the “greatest priority” in terms of the increased funding needed for witness security and protection. It also increases the offense of promoting prostitution in the first and second degree to a class A and B felony, respectively. The measure makes the offense of habitual prostitution a class C felony and raises the penalty for those who regularly patronize prostitutes.
Raising the Stakes
In the 2011 legislature, Rhoads introduced HB 44, which makes it a misdemeanor to offer or agree to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of sexual conduct when within 750 feet of a school or public park.
“HB 44 and other anti-prostitution bills raise the stakes for pimps, sex traffickers and customers of prostitutes, while adding protections for the prostitutes themselves who [may] wish to testify against those who coerced them into the sex trade,” says Rhoads, who was named Freshman Legislator of the Year for 2007 by the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.
HB 44 also raises the penalty for johns soliciting prostitutes close to schools and parks,” Rhoads adds. “Our keiki should not have to run through a gauntlet of pimps and johns when they go to school or to the park.”
Bills introduced by Rep. Karl Rhoads
· HB 3002 (2008) – Made habitual solicitation of prostitution an offense. This bill increases the penalty for prostitution customers who repeatedly patronize them. It does not alter the penalty for prostitutes themselves.
· HB 1978 (2008) – Prohibits public urination and defecation in Chinatown and Downtown.
· HB 1984 (2008) – Prohibits consumption of alcohol in common areas of public housing complexes.
· HB 111 (2009) – Equalizes the time state and public employees have to seek redress for overpaid or underpaid wages.