Hawaii Police Can Have Sex With Prostitutes Legally, And They're Pushing For It To Stay That Way
A state law in Hawaii allows undercover police to have sex with prostitutes, and cops are fighting to keep it that way. Police officials say the law is necessary to infiltrate criminal rings, but critics contend that the law further victimizes sex workers who may have been forced into human trafficking or other abuse. A debate over the law is scheduled in the Hawaii Senate Friday — today — after a bill cracking down on prostitution but doing away with the sex exemption for officers passed, and was later reinstated after an outcry from police.
In the bill's section addressing the solicitation of a minor under age 18 for prostitution, it clearly states that punishment "shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties."
"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," Roger Young, a retired sex-crime FBI agent, told press Thursday.
Undercover cops understand the strict nature of their investigations and don't take advantage of prostitutes, Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye argued in the House Judiciary Committee. Specifics are not available to the public due to the sensitive nature of the cases.
The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential... 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.
Hawaii's bill aims to increase the penalties on pimps while letting sex workers off on misdemeanor charges. As Bustle reported earlier this week, pimps only spend a measly 14 percent of their money on condoms for their employees, so uh yeah, blame should definitely rest with the pimps.
While Hawaii police chiefs promise that undercover cops who take advantage of the system will be punished, it's not entirely clear what that punishment would entail. While the state hasn't released any data on how much they use the sex exemption — if ever — other states have had some problems between cops and prostitutes.
For example, in Philadelphia and West Sacramento, Calif., police officers have been accused of raping prostitutes while on duty. In Massachusetts, a former cop was convicted last year of threatening prostitutes with arrest unless they had sex with him. In 2010, a former Memphis officer was charged with driving prostitutes to remote locations and raping them in his police car.
Derek Marsh, who trains California police on human-trafficking cases, told press that the sex exemption for Hawaii police does more harm than good: "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?"