A curious provision in Hawaii's state law that allows undercover police officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations is under attack by critics, but Honolulu PD wants to keep the law in place.
A recent bill (HB 1926) attempted to eliminate the exemption for police, but undercover officers testified that the law was needed to help catch lawbreakers "in the act." The Associated Press reports that police won't clarify how often or even if the provision has been used by undercover officers, but the department claims that internal policies prevent an abuse of the law. The bill was amended to allow the officer exemption, passing through the state House and entering a Senate committee today.
This law could not only be used to advocate or promote police misconduct, but human rights advocates argue that this could have a lasting negative effect on the sex workers themselves who are often in the trade as victims against their will.
In fact, police misconduct relating to prostitution is not all that uncommon. A former Philadelphia officer is currently on trial for raping two prostitutes while a West Sacramento, California officer has recently been found guilty of raping prostitutes in his patrol car while on duty.
But Honolulu police spokeswoman Michelle Yu told the AP that any officers found to be exploiting the law would be punished. "All allegations of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action taken." But disclosure laws make researching police misconduct impossible in Hawaii. Yu states that no such misconduct has taken place "in recent memory."
Hawaii's politicians are offering no opposition to the law. "It's a really murky area," said Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads. "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.'"
It's important to note that not everyone on the force is on the side of this bill. Retired special agent Roger Young worked sex crimes for the FBI for 20 years in Las Vegas and is skeptical of how this law could even exist. "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."
At Jezebel.com, some thought-provoking issues are brought up regarding the consequences of this law. "And what about underage sex workers?" Reporter Rebecca Rose asks. "If a young girl is working as prostitute, what's to stop an undercover from engaging in a sexual act with her under this exemption? Hawaii, do you really want your police officers having sex with underage people just so you can increase a few crime fighting stats on a spreadsheet somewhere?"
In Hawaii, prostitution is a misdemeanor, but the recent bill is targeting pimps and those who solicit the sex workers for harsher penalties.