Prostitution Is Not Destroying Waikiki

A lot has been written and said about prostitution and Waikiki. Some think that visible prostitution as in the case of streetwalking is a major problem. When Terrance Tom chaired the house judiciary he called the situation "intolerable" and said "such activity is abhorrent to residents and visitors alike and is driving both from one of the State's prime attractions. To quote an editorial piece he wrote "for 20 years, this community has had to contend with prostitutes, controlled and manipulated by their pimps, plying their trade in open defiance of our laws, physically and verbally harassing tourists and residents alike." But what evidence is presented to support the harm implied by the actions of the prostitutes?

Mr. Tom's comments were made in the 1990's. Prostitution continues in Waikiki, but no research indicates it has driven tourists or residents away. Indeed since the activity had been going on for twenty years prior to his comments one might ask why there was anyone left in Waikiki at all. There are certainly complaints from visitors and residents about prostitutes and some unscientific evidence collecting by other legislators indicating antipathy towards prostitutes among Waikiki residents. There is no evidence suggesting the visitor industry is harmed by visible prostitution in Waikiki. The only non-biased attempts to obtain visitor opinions have been done by the newspapers and television news reporters doing random interviews on the streets. One good example was done by the Advertiser during the time Terrance Tom was drumming up his hysteria. Positive comments about the prostitutes outnumbered negative ones by four to one. It seems most people out and about in Waikiki were either interested in or intrigued by the prostitutes, or at least not offended by them.

It should be obvious that streetwalkers in Waikiki exist because there is a demand for their services. Without a steady stream of Johns, the prostitutes would have packed up their bags and left years ago. It is directly contrary to the interests of working prostitutes to drive visitors from Waikiki. They are not in business for the purpose of upsetting anyone. They are in business to please and be paid, just like everyone else. Many of the specific issues that draw negative remarks such as aggressiveness and thefts are exacerbated by the anti-prostitution laws. The laws make things worse for everyone concerned; the prostitute, her customer, the officers of the law, and the community. The only ones who benefit are crank politicians. Prostitution is an important part of the visitor industry adding tens of millions of dollars to the local economy annually.

Certainly there will continue to be people who complain. For example there are those who say prostitution is bad for our image as a family oriented vacation spot. Why the police department should be involved in such a question is not clear. No business reasons why Waikiki should be called or promoted as "family oriented" have been put forward. Most visitors to Hawaii are adults without their children. We are neither a family oriented destination or seen as such. The fact that some people don't like seeing street walkers provides no rationale for arresting them. When I worked in the Waikiki visitor industry we had lots of complaints from middle aged white people about the number of Japanese here. They didn't like seeing these foreigners at all. Should we have paid attention to these bigots? Why should we listen to people who want to attack Waikiki's prostitutes?

For further information email:

Tracy Ryan at

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