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Hawaii law allows police to have sex with prostitutes

Hawaii Law Lets Police Have Sex With Prostitutes

HONOLULU (AP) -- Honolulu police officers have urged lawmakers to keep an exemption in state law that allows undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations, touching off a heated debate.

Authorities say they need the legal protection to catch lawbreakers in the act. Critics, including human trafficking experts and other police, say it's unnecessary and could further victimize sex workers, many of whom have been forced into the trade.

Police haven't said how often - or even if - they use the provision. And when they asked legislators to preserve it, they made assurances that internal policies and procedures are in place to prevent officers from taking advantage of it.

But expert Derek Marsh says the exemption is "antiquated at best" and that police can easily do without it.

"It doesn't help your case, and at worst you further traumatize someone. And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?" asked Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue.

A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution (HB 1926) was originally written to scrap the sex exemption for officers on duty. It was amended to restore that protection after police testimony. The revised proposal passed the state House and will go before a Senate committee Friday.

It's not immediately clear whether similar provisions are in place elsewhere as state law or department policy. But advocates were shocked that Hawaii exempts police from its prostitution laws, suggesting it's an invitation for misconduct.

"Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution," said Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley said that in places without such police protections "women who have escaped prostitution" commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested.

The Hawaii bill aims to ratchet up penalties on johns and pimps. Selling sex would remain a petty misdemeanor.

During recent testimony, Honolulu police said the sex exemption protects investigations and should remain in place.

"The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential," Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye told the House Judiciary Committee. "Because if prostitution suspects, pimps and other people are privy to that information, they're going to know exactly how far the undercover officer can and cannot go."

Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee chairman, said police testimony convinced him to amend the proposal.

"It's a really murky area," said Rhoads, who represents a district that includes Honolulu's Chinatown, a longstanding epicenter of street prostitution. "I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it's necessary to not have it in the statute, this is one area where I did defer to them and say, `I hope you're not having sex with prostitutes.'"

Critics say the police perspective is off base. Lauren Hersh, a former prosecuting attorney who runs the global trafficking program of the women's advocacy group Equality Now, said the risk of re-victimizing a sex worker, who may already have been trafficked, should make sex during an investigation off-limits.

"I can understand you're in a drug den, and you have a gun to your head and someone says `snort this,'" Hersh said, acknowledging the gray areas associated with undercover police work. But the sex exemption in Hawaii is "so dissimilar from that circumstance on so many levels."

There have been instances of police being accused of victimizing sex workers across the nation. In Philadelphia, a former officer is on trial facing charges of raping two prostitutes after forcing them at gunpoint to take narcotics. A former West Sacramento, Calif., officer is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of raping prostitutes in his police cruiser while on patrol. And last year in Massachusetts, a former police officer pleaded guilty to extorting sex from prostitutes he threatened with arrest.

Rhoads said he knew no reason to suspect Honolulu police are out of line.

"All allegations of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action taken," said Michelle Yu, Honolulu police spokeswoman, in an email.

It's not clear, however, what the punishment would be. The disclosure laws for police misconduct in Hawaii make it impossible to know if an on-duty officer had faced discipline or accusations of having sex with a prostitute.

Officers who investigate prostitution haven't been accused of sexual wrongdoing in recent memory, Yu said. A patrol officer in 2011 was fired after being convicted of sexual assault against a prostitute, she said.

Skeptics, such as Roger Young, a retired special agent who for more than 20 years worked sex crimes for the FBI from Las Vegas and has trained vice squads around the country, remain unconvinced.

Young said Thursday, "I don't know of any state or federal law that allows any law enforcement officer undercover to penetrate or do what this law is allowing."

Join the discussion

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Kristine March 21 2014 at 4:24 PM

For those of you who think prostitution is ok, you need to educate yourself on human trafficking. It has become a very sick problem all over the world, and in our "christian" nation. I recommend the movie "The Whistleblower". It tells how even the police can get caught up in trafficking. The vast majority of women are not prostitutes because they want to be. They are being trafficked or their circumstances in life give them no other choice.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
doscaramelos March 21 2014 at 6:21 PM

This is the most ridiculous law I have ever heard. Cops getting laid just to be able to "prove" prostitution? Give me a break. This is nothing more than giving corrupt crooked cops cart blanche to abuse women who are prostitutes. I doubt very much these cops arrest one each time they get laid in the name of the law. If one were my husband, he'd have his dingy cut off one time.

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1 reply
Hi Sandra doscaramelos March 21 2014 at 6:27 PM

Actually, it would only take one, right? lol

Flag Reply +1 rate up
spike March 21 2014 at 6:34 PM

The cops that are doing this are saying,give me sex or go to jail.I'd bet my life on it.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
xraybrain March 21 2014 at 6:45 PM

I'll bet the wives of these cops are over joyed by this new decision

Flag Reply +5 rate up
JackieRay March 21 2014 at 6:55 PM

yeah the cop has sex with a woman he meets somewher throws $10 on the bed and arests her for prostution

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
fullmetljacket JackieRay March 21 2014 at 7:18 PM

I think this is called a win win for him.

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plaitkool March 21 2014 at 6:57 PM

what is the world coming to?/////////////

Flag Reply +3 rate up
jebby1 March 21 2014 at 6:58 PM

There's an easier way. Decriminalize free-will prostitution and let the police, like everyone else, have sex with whoever they wish, whether paid for or not.

Better criminalize human trafficking. This would mean that women being forced into prostitution (like people being forced to do anything) would be treated as victims and not subject to arrest, so therefore more willing to turn in their pimps and traffickers.

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magmtnman60 March 21 2014 at 7:03 PM

How is that any different than cops in NYC or NJ or Secret Services in DC?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ED GIBBS March 21 2014 at 7:09 PM


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fullmetljacket March 21 2014 at 7:16 PM

Where I live in New Castle Indiana, the 1% of cops that mar the reputaion for other officers like married women. These women have been allowed to steal from the Husband. Things like wedding rings from the husband's deceased wife from a long term previous marriage of twenty-nine years. Filing false charges on the husband in order to get him out of the house and bring her family in for a shopping spree of his and his previous wife's personal things. Then a forgery from the wicked wife, whom actually worked a local bank. Well, it involved a local official, so go figure. The wicked former wife is on the best friend list of the detective for the prosecution, not to mention she went to school with the main prosecutor. I have proof of all of the. Witnesses, written proof and documentation from the BMV. A cheap way to go would be to be arrested for these comments, then bring out all of my proof in court.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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