Hawai’i Harm Reduction: Changing State Laws for Sex Workers

Community advocates and sex workers in Hawai’i are rallying to be heard in the next session of the state legislature.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Tracy Ryan, Executive Director, Harm Reduction Hawai’i

Harm Reduction Hawai’i is attempting to change state statutes and rules that currently subject sex workers to moral judgment and criminalization. Tracy Ryan, executive director of the organization, says fearful sex workers unwilling to testify and federal misinformation is crippling progress.

“If we are to deal with either sex work or sex trafficking, we have to start with real facts. And, as long as the hysteria and fear reign supreme, we can’t do that. We can’t do a real factual analysis, we can’t look at the cost benefits of various programs. We cannot use logic to solve problems. Instead, it’s about getting people to fear and get angry and pass bad laws. This is where we have been for most of the past 15 years.

Ryan says New Zealand has removed laws that penalize acts of consenting adults and offers workers the


Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Terra Burns, advocate for the rights of sex workers

the greatest freedom of how and where they want to work. Terra Burns, originally from Alaska, quit sex work, began writing books, and earned a master’s degree in social justice. She lobbied her state legislature to change sex trafficking laws.

“We now have an immunity law in Alaska that allows you, if you are a victim or witness of a crime such as sex trafficking, child pornography or assault, to report it to the police and you cannot be accused of prostitution or arrested. prostitution when you declare in good faith that you have been the victim or witness of a heinous crime.

Burns says the next step is to clear sex workers’ criminal records to enable them to secure employment and housing and ultimately decriminalize all aspects of consenting adult sex work.

“Prostitution laws violate our constitutional rights to privacy, our due process rights to work, to contract and to earn a living; our rights to come together and communicate with each other for our own safety and to negotiate for safe workplaces.

Executive Director Ryan, a transgender woman, supports erasing sex workers’ criminal records as the only way to avoid prosecution right now is to pretend to be a victim of sex trafficking. She is also organizing an awareness project and intends to present a number of legislative initiatives in the next session for more protections and freedoms.

“We really believe that sex workers should be the ones speaking for themselves rather than speaking to advocates and advocates like me speaking for them. So if sex workers are actually running for the legislature, they cannot really be ignored. And we’ve seen in the few hearings I’ve been to where sex workers have come forward that the whole tone of what people across this office really thought and were ready to do had changed.

There will be a harm reduction conference on January 11 to discuss a wide range of issues, of which sex work is a part. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

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