Young sexy girls and guys greet many visitors to the Aloha State, and asking for “hot dates” on Waikiki’s Kuhio Avenue. By “date” they really mean if the tourist wants to pay for sex for male or female prostitutes. Is the oldest profession, prostitution now legal in Hawaii?
The answer is yes, if you are a member of the Honolulu Police Department. But, definitely no, if you are in Hawaii for tourism or you are a Kamaaina (Hawaiian for local resident).
Hawaii is the only US state that permits police officers to engage in sexual activities with prostitutes. They convinced State of Hawaii lawmakers to preserve a controversial exemption in state law that allows undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations.
As reported by the Honolulu Star Advertiser, this may not change. A key state lawmaker said Friday he plans to change a bill to end a police exemption under the state’s prostitution laws.
Having sex with prostitutes with taxpayers money is what law enforcement claims is needed to run successful undercover stings against pimps, human traffickers, and those soliciting sex. Critics of the exemption, including human trafficking experts, say it is an unnecessary provision and that it could further victimize sex workers while exacerbating their distrust of police officers.
The exemption surfaced recently, as Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill to crackdown on pimps and “Johns” while continuing to classify the act of selling sex as a “petty misdemeanor,” AP reported.
The original language of the bill dropped the police exemption. Yet, upon police testimony urging a reversal, the bill was amended to preserve the provision, according to AP.
The bill has passed the state House and will go before a state Senate committee on Friday, March 21, 2014.
According to reports, police have not divulged how or even if this provision is used, but they assured legislators that internal policies are in place to bar officers from abusing the loophole. During legislative testimony, police said the provision is needed to protect the integrity of investigations.
Democratic Rep. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the Judiciary committee, said police testimony convinced him to restore the exemption.
Experts and sex worker advocates say the exemption is a dangerous, “antiquated at best” provision that places often vulnerable sex workers at the mercy of further abuse.
Advocates are trying to now piece together whether similar exemptions exist in state law or Honolulu Police Department policy. Regardless, those who have helped sex workers move on from prostitution say such a policy is asking to be abused.
“Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” said Melissa Farley, executive director of Prostitution Research and Education in California. She added that in even in places without the exemption, the women her organization works with have said they were often forced to give sexual favors to police to avoid arrest.
There have been recent incidents of police sexually abusing sex workers in the US. In separate cases taking place in Philadelphia and West Sacramento, former police officers are on trial for raping sex workers. Last year in Massachusetts, a former officer pleaded guilty to extorting sex from prostitutes after threatening to take them into custody.
Critics of the exemption also say the belief that the police need the provision to conduct investigations doesn’t add up, and that further victimization of a sex worker should negate any such provision.
Disclosure laws in Hawaii for police misconduct, though, make it almost impossible to know if an on-duty officer has faced discipline or even accusations for having sex with a prostitute.