In the state of Hawaii, it is legal for an undercover police officer to have sex with a prostitute during investigation, then arrest her afterwards. A provision in Hawaii’s legislation permits officers to engage in sexual activities with prostitutes as long as the police officer is compliant with procedures and conduct that is regulated by department policy. Proponents of the law say its legal protection for the undercover officers posing as johns to catch prostitutes in the act of selling sex. Dissidents of the law claims it increases abuse, manipulation and bad behavior of law enforcement towards sex workers. The Hawaii bill (HB1926), which has been on the books since 1972, was intended to crack down on prostitution and allow sex exemptions for officers on duty. The bill has been amended to restore the exemption after police testimony and has passed through the state House and is currently being debated by the Senate committee as of Friday morning.
Supporters of the bill have flippantly stated that “it is part of the job” and Honolulu police have said that the exemption safeguards the investigation. Some think that this law is still on the books because of archaic perceptions of selling and buying sex is harmless and prostitution is a victimless crime; neither the john nor the prostitute is a victim. Honolulu police have asserted to the state House that eradicating the exemption would give hookers and pimps the upper hand, because they would know how far a police officer can and cannot go and revealing their identity could compromise the case.
There have been many critics for this bill, that permits Hawaii police to have sex with prostitutes, due to the nature of the exemption, allowing officers to victimize prostitutes without punishment. Under disclosure laws, Hawaii police officials do not have to reveal how many times the exemption has been used and if an on-duty officer does not follow department procedures during a prostitution investigation, there is no knowing if the officer will face any disciplinary action. Melissa Farley, an executive director of Prostitution and Research, a San Francisco-based group, claimed police abuse is very common among female sex workers and there have numerous cases where prostitutes were forced to perform sexual favors in exchange of not being arrested. Lauren Hersh, of Equality Now, a women’s advocacy group that has a global trafficking program, said the exemption is an invitation for Hawaii police to re-victimize women who have already been trafficked.
Robert Young, a retired FBI special agent, has experience in training vice squads all across the country and proclaimed that he has never heard of any other state and federal law allowing undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes for the sake of protecting a case. Charlie Fuller, an executive director of International Association of Undercover Officers, said the bill in Hawaii is absurdly laughable and said a diligent cop would get probable cause before crossing the line of engaging in sex with a prostitute. There is no transparency in this law because a lot of information of a prostitution case can remain confidential. If Hawaii police can have sex with prostitutes, then its just a case of fighting crime with crime.
By Isriya Kendrick