There is already a provision in state law that allows police officers working undercover to have sex with prostitutes if the act is a part of an investigation, and Honolulu cops have successfully convinced law makers in the state to keep the provision in order them to help compile evidence and to apprehend law breakers while in the act.
Human trafficking experts, however, say that the legal protection that is extended to undercover agents is an unnecessary provision that further victimizes the sex workers, and is specifically dangerous to those who have been forced into this trade. The police have not released data on how often they use this provision, nor have they confirmed that it has been used in recent cases. They did stress to law makers that their own internal policies and procedures department has been put in place in order to prevent the abuse of this provision by the officers protected under it.
Derek Marsh, a trafficking expert and the police trainer, says that the Hawaii laws’ exemption is completely out of date with modern times and that there is no reason undercover agents cannot compile meaningful evidence and successfully do their jobs without having sex with the prostitutes.
“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?” Marsh asked the state legislators. Marsh has also testified before Congress on this exact issue, seeking to ban this provision nationwide.
This issue has come up because there was a recent bill before the Hawaii state legislators that was seeking to crack down on prostitution and was written to abolish the exemption for sex for undercover officers. After police testimony however the bill was restored to keep the police protected. The proposal, now revised, will go before the State’s Senate body on Friday, it already passed through the House.
“Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” the executive director of the group Prostitution Research and Education, a group located in San Francisco, Melissa Farley said in regards to this case. She also added that with provisions like this one in place prostitutes are often “coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested or harassed.”
However, this bill does seek to escalate the penalties that are levied upon pimps and johns in Hawaii while keeping the actual punishment for prostitutes who are selling sex at only a misdemeanor. Police did testify in this case saying that they are not abusing their authority with this power and do not abuse or take advantage of prostitutes. They also referred to their internal controls procedures which they say is strict and is effective at dispelling misconduct.
Police Major Jerry Inouye said that the conduct of undercover agents is confidential because if its sensitive nature but is also regulated. Although this issue is becoming more and more controversial, a Hawaii exemption allowing police officers working undercover to have sex will remain in place will stand as many Congressman believe it is a “murky area” and are deferring to police judgment.
By Nick Manai