Police officers are legally allowed to have sex with prostitutes. Wait, did I read that correctly?
Yes, indeed it is true. At least in the breezy, ocean state of Hawaii. Hawaii’s lawmakers recently reinstated the provision that excused undercover officers from being penalized for having sex with prostitutes. This provision has been around for decades in Hawaii. The justification surrounding the measure is that police officers who are undercover alongside pimps and johns are pressured to have sex with the prostitutes to gain their trust.
Talks about the existence of the provision came to light when Hawaii lawmakers introduced a new bill, HB 1926, to increase penalties for owners of prostitution rings. This new bill excluded the long-standing provision that allowed officers to engage in sexual activity with the prostitutes whilst undercover. According to Police Major Jerry Inouye, prostitutes already subject their clients to certain acts as a means of “cop checking” to ensure that they are not an undercover agent. The police lobbied to keep the provision in the bill arguing that their cover will be blown. Pimps will see it as a red flag if the undercover officers do not have sex with the prostitutes. After protests by the police department, lawmakers reinstated the provision.
Although the new bill, including the old provision, was passed through the house and committee, it is still not supported by all lawmakers and police officers. After hearing testimonies from both sides, the House and Senate have claimed to revoke the provision and vote on the new law change by May 2014.
One expert, who trains officers on how to handle human trafficking cases in California, says that “at worst [they] further traumatize someone”. I think a violation of someone’s rights is a valid reason not to pass a law that encourages it. It is clear that during undercover operations officers are subjected to dangerous situations, therefore making it imperative to gain the trust of the alleged criminals by engaging in illegal activity. What makes them different from the criminals if they break the very same laws they are supposed to protect? Especially when that involves raping sex workers.
I understand that there can be life-threatening situations “on the job”, but that does not mean there should be a separate provision allowing sexual acts between law enforcement and prostitutes. I am sure lawmakers consider the benefits and shortcomings of a proposed law before passing it. In this case the benefit is that police officers can arrest johns, but at the price of violating already violated girls and women.
At the end of the day there is no method of making sure police officers do not abuse this law. It leaves the door wide open for speculation and uncertainty, ultimately driving the real victims further away from trusting law enforcement. In addition, police officials around the country are able to build cases against pimps and johns without such a provision. Investigations of prostitution rings should focus on alternative methods of catching the perpetrators, instead of relying on laws that allow them to carry out unethical acts.