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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 31, 2003

Prostitution shifts from Waikiki

By Allison Schaefers
Advertiser Staff Writer

The sidewalks of Waikiki are no longer filled with the dozens of prostitutes who were soliciting tourists just a few years ago.

Offenses by district

The number of prostitution offenses* in District 1, which stretches from the mountains to the sea and is bordered by Liliha and Punahou streets, and District 6, which covers Waikikifrom Atkinson Drive to the slopes of Diamond Head and the Ala Wai Canal to the beaches:

1996 District 1 — 186, Waikiki — 144

1997 District 1 — 184, Waikiki — 245

1998 District 1 — 207, Waikiki — 236

1999 District 1 — 311, Waikiki — 96

2000 District 1 — 331, Waikiki — 123

2001 District 1 — 332, Waikiki — 161

2002 District 1 — 301, Waikiki — 163

2003 (first six months)

District 1 — 137, Waikiki — 45

* Offenses are defined as prostitution activities that police investigated and logged in reports.

But while the police crackdown has cut the number of Waikiki prostitutes, it's created a bigger problem for the neighborhoods that border Waikiki.

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo, Jr. compares the crackdown to stomping on an anthill.

Fighting prostitution "is like manually attacking an anthill," Kubo said. "You brush it away and think it's all cool and then three meters away another puka opens up."

While prostitution has decreased in Waikiki, Honolulu police say they have investigated triple the number of offenses in neighboring District 1. From January to June, police logged 45 prostitution offenses in Waikiki while handling 137 prostitution offenses in District 1, which primarily covers the area through downtown Honolulu from Liliha to Punahou streets.

District 1 police are getting more reports of prostitution, particularly along 'A'ala and Kukui streets to parts of Kapi'olani Boulevard, Ke'eaumoku Street and Nu'uanu Avenue, said Honolulu Police Capt. Ed Nishi, of District 1.

While prostitutes have worked in Chinatown, they haven't typically frequented other areas such as Ke'eaumoku Street and Kapi'olani Boulevard, said Honolulu Police Capt. Kevin Lima, of the Narcotics/Vice Detail.

Prostitutes have moved on to District 1 because of a decline in Waikiki tourism, coupled with tougher enforcement of prostitution laws, Lima said.

Prostitutes were once a common sight along Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues until the state Legislature passed a law in 1998 that allowed judges to impose so-called geographic restrictions to keep them out of Waikiki from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

If a person is arrested on a public street in Waikiki or Wahiawa on suspicion of prostitution — defined as engaging, agreeing or offering to engage in sexual conduct for a fee — a judge can issue a geographic restriction. Judges can issue restrictions at arraignment that last until a defendant's trial. Six-month restrictions are also issued as a condition of probation.

If a defendant violates a pretrial geographic restriction, the court could revoke the bail and hold the person until trial, said city prosecutor's office spokesman Jim Fulton. If prostitutes violate probation, a judge can revoke it and sentence them to six months in prison, Fulton said.

Prostitutes arrested in District 1 often tell police they have geographical restrictions banning them from Waikiki, Nishi said.

"Back in 1996 to 1997," Fulton said, "there were literally 100 prostitutes working a night. Now it's down to four or five girls, maybe 10 or 20 on a busy night."

Targeting Japanese

Waikiki prostitutes used to be so aggressive that they targeted Japanese tourists in front of their wives and children, Fulton said. Many of them were Mainland imports who bleached their hair blond and learned to speak Japanese to cater to the then-booming Asian tourist market, he said.

A woman who once prostituted herself on the streets of Waikiki, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma attached to the lifestyle, said geographic restrictions didn't stop her from turning tricks in a different neighborhood. "Things are heating up in Waikiki, so it (prostitution) is shifting," she said.

Police statistics from 1997 and 1998 show that reported prostitution offenses in Waikiki outnumbered those in neighboring District 1. But since geographic restrictions in Waikiki took effect in 1999, the location of prostitution offenses has shifted.

In 1997 and 1998 police logged 245 and 236 prostitution offenses, respectively, in Waikiki. But in 1999 the number dropped to 96.

At the same time, the number of District 1 prostitution offenses shot up from 207 to 311.

Tourism figures show that travel from Japan is still down as much as 33 percent, attributed in part to Japan's continuing economic slump, the recent threat of SARS and Japanese fears of overseas travel.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when prostitution was at its peak in Waikiki, police would get five or six calls a night from customers who had been victims of theft or other crimes, said Tim Haverly, security chief for the Marine Surf Hotel.

While Fulton and some federal officials call geographical restrictions a success, others say it's a "Band-Aid" approach that merely pushed the problem into other areas.

Fears of more crime

Some O'ahu residents worry the shift in prostitution may attract more crime into their neighborhoods.

Larry Hurst, an Ala Moana/ Kaka'ako neighborhood board member, said prostitution and other illegal activities have come to Ke'eaumoku Street and Kapi'olani Boulevard, an area with massage parlors, hostess bars, drug dealers and thieves.

Prostitution, Hurst said, leads to more serious crimes. "At 2 a.m. to 4 a.m.," Hurst said, "we've got rush hour on the street."

As a result of those concerns about crime, Kubo announced Thursday that the U. S. Justice Department has expanded the Weed and Seed law enforcement program to cover that area. The program is aimed at fighting crime and rebuilding troubled neighborhoods with federal prosecution and resources.

Defense attorney William Harrison, who has represented prostitutes in court, said the Legislature's geographic exemption for Waikiki may have curtailed the number of streetwalkers in the heart of Hawai'i's tourism industry.

But it won't slow the overall prostitution industry in Honolulu, Harrison said.

"Prostitution has been around since biblical days," he said. "But by curtailing it from Waikiki it gets forced into other areas."

Reach Allison Schaefers at aschaefers@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8110.