Moral Low Ground


It’s Legal for Hawaii Police to Have Sex with Prostitutes, and Honolulu Cops Want to Keep it that Way

Under existing Hawaiian law, it is legal for undercover police officers to have sex with prostitutes during criminal investigations, and police in the Aloha State’s largest city are lobbying lawmakers to keep it that way.

A new bill aimed at cracking down on prostitution originally contained language that would have ended the police sex exemption. But the proposed legislation was later amended to restore officers’ right to have sex with prostitutes if such acts were committed during the course of a police investigation. The revised bill has been approved by the state House and will now go before a Senate committee.

Police claim they need to be able to have sex with prostitutes in order to catch lawbreakers in the act. Human trafficking experts and other opponents of the law argue it’s unnecessary and could further harm sex workers, many of whom have been trafficked into the trade.

“It doesn’t help your case, and at worst, you further traumatize someone,” trafficking expert Derek Marsh told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?”

Marsh, who trains California cops in best practices on human trafficking cases and who has twice testified before Congress on the issue, called the police sex exemption “antiquated at best.”

Other experts warned of the potential for continuing police abuse of vulnerable individuals who are already viewed as criminals, or weak and exploitable, by most officers.

“Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” Melissa Farley, executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley added that former prostitutes often report being forced to sexually service police to avoid arrest and harassment.

There have been numerous recent cases in which police officers across the country have been accused of raping not only prostitutes, but also vulnerable transexual women and even domestic abuse victims, while on duty. One Philadelphia cop currently stands accused of raping women and forcing one of them into prostitution.

But Honolulu police officials asserted that officers need legal protection to catch criminals in the act, and that stringent internal controls are in place which ban misconduct.

“The procedures and conduct of undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential,” Honolulu Police Major Jerry Inouye is quoted by Fox News. “Because if a prostitute 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.”

State Rep. Karl Rhoads, a Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, told the Associated Press that Inouye’s testimony convinced him to amend the bill to restore officers’ right to have sex with prostitutes.

“It’s a really murky area,” said Rhoads. “This is one area where I did defer to them and say, ‘I hope you’re not having sex with prostitutes.'” Rhoads added that he had no reason to believe Honolulu police were doing so, despite cases in the city’s police officers have been accused– and convicted— of just that.

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