Sex with Prostitutes to Be Banned for Hawaii Police
A controversial exemption in Hawaii law that permits police to have sex with prostitutes during investigations is in the process of being changed to make the practice illegal. Despite previously lobbying to retain the exemption, Honolulu police officials have now come to an agreement with legislators to have the law changed in a revised version of the state’s prostitution statutes.
Prostitution is illegal in Hawaii, but the existing law states that the prohibition “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.”
The issue was raised in February as Hawaii lawmakers debated ways to strengthen existing prostitution laws. Following police testimony defending the exemption, it was retained by the state House in a proposed new law, but the state Senate deferred a vote on Mar. 21 amidst a growing furor. Police and lawmakers reached a consensus on Mar. 25 to outlaw sexual penetration between police and prostitutes, but if the revised bill passes police will still be allowed to verbally solicit sex as part of an investigation.
When defending the exemption before the House Judiciary Committee, Honolulu Police Major Jerry Inouye said that department rules governing police officers’ conduct with prostitutes were in place, but that they must be kept 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.” Inouye later said, “As it is, we are already subject to ‘cop checking’ where prostitution subjects do certain acts or attempt to do certain acts to determine whether the person is an undercover officer.”
State Representative Karl Rhoads (D), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was convinced by Inouye’s testimony to defend the exemption: “It’s a really murky area. I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it’s necessary… this is one area where I did defer to them and say, ‘I hope you’re not having sex with prostitutes.'”
The exemption has prompted objections from victims’ rights and women’s advocacy groups. Prosecuting attorney Lauren Hersh, New York Office Director of anti-sex trafficking group Equality Now, said that allowing police to have sexual interaction with prostitutes could perpetuate victimization. “I can understand you’re in a drug den, and you have a gun to your head and someone says ‘snort this,” she said. “[This is] so dissimilar from that circumstance on so many levels.”
The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery wrote to lawmakers, “We are near certain that no other state in the nation allows for this type of ‘interpersonal’ and highly problematic ‘investigative tool’ to facilitate prostitution arrests… Other states such as Illinois, California, New York, Washington, D.C., Texas, and Georgia — states with high rates of sex trafficking and prostitution — do not allow sexual penetration to be used by law enforcement during prostitution investigations yet have no problem completing successful investigations and arrests.”
According to Honolulu police spokeswoman Teresa Bell, internal police department rules prevented police from having sex with prostitutes. Referring to the exemption, she said “That’s not something that we wanted anyway; that was just there… The only thing that we had a problem with was the verbal part [being able to verbally solicit sex].” However, Kathryn Xian, director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, said that “in all of the versions of the [bill’s] language, never did it exclude their ability to solicit verbally.”
Hawaii State Senator Clayton Hee, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to remove the exemption at a committee meeting scheduled for Mar. 28. “I suppose that in retrospect the police probably feel somewhat embarrassed about this whole situation,” Hee stated, adding that “the police… agree this tool is not an appropriate tool for their toolbox.”
Paresh Dave, “Hawaii Law Letting Police Have Sex with Prostitutes May Be Changed,” latimes.com, Mar. 22, 2014
Sam Eifling, “HPD Presses Lawmakers to Keep Undercover Sex Exemption,” Associated Press, staradvertiser.com, Mar. 20, 2014
Oskar Garcia, “Hawaii Lawmaker, Police Agree to Prostitution Ban,” Associated Press, washingtonpost.com, Mar. 25, 2014
Martha Kempner, “Hawaii House Votes to Continue Allowing Police to Have Sex with Prostitutes,” rhrealitycheck.org, Mar. 24, 2014
Mark Memmott, “In Hawaii, Sex with a Prostitute May Be Legal for Undercover Cops,” npr.org, Mar. 21, 2014
Mark Memmott, “Hawaii’s Police, Lawmakers Reach Consensus on Prostitution Law,” npr.org, Mar. 26, 2014