If a police officer is investigating potential prostitution, does he or she really need to engage in sexual relations in order to make an arrest? Hawaii cops are saying that option needs to remain open, and are asking lawmakers to leave intact a rule that allows undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes while conducting an investigation.
According to ABC News, a new bill meant to create greater punishments for prostitution, especially around those who were arranging the transaction like pimps and johns, was originally written to remove a long standing exception that allows officers to engage in sex activities with prostitutes during the investigation. Police officers lobbied lawmakers to have it added back as an amendment, declaring that without the ability to engage in sex, they would lose a tool to protect their investigation.
Victims advocacy groups, sex trafficking groups and women’s right groups disagree, citing a likelihood of abuse by investigators coupled with the fact that many involved in prostitution may not be participating of their own free will. “Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education, told ABC News, also telling the news reporter that women involved in prostitution “commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested.”
Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, a Hawaii-based non-profit group, also opposes the exception. “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 … 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,” they said in a letter to the legislature.
Roger Young, a retired FBI agent, agreed, telling the Associated Press: ”I don’t know of any state or federal law that allows any law enforcement officer undercover to … do what this law is allowing … Once we agree on the price and the sex act, that’s all that you need [to make an arrest]. That breaks the law.”
Does allowing officers the ability to have sex with prostitutes and say it’s for the purpose of an investigation open up the potential for abuse? Police officers assaulting prostitutes are a sadly common experience. A Philadelphia officer was recently charged with raping two female prostitutes, one of whom he was also allegedly dating and soliciting her out on his own, as well. Other cases also exist of police officers abusing their authority to take advantage of prostitutes, such as this Massachusetts officer who had sex with prostitutes dozens of times, allegedly stating “he felt no one could ‘touch’ him because he is a police officer,” according to local news reports.
“[T]hey are asking legislators to preserve their ability to have sex with prostitutes because, hey, they do it responsibly,” writes Amanda Marcotte at Slate, and, frankly, that’s what it comes down to. The police arguing to allowing the exception to remain are literally saying, “No one has complained about us yet, and we can’t say how much we have or will do this, but we promise that just because we can have sex with them doesn’t mean we are going to do it.”
The bill has already passed the state House, and will be heading to the senate. If it passes there, it will be up to the governor to sign or veto. If that occurs, the police in Hawaii will continue to have the unprecedented ability to use their own authority to potentially have sex with people who in many cases are already sexually victimized, all because they may deem it necessary to prove that a prostitute is really intending to have sex for pay.
Tell Hawaii lawmakers that no other state allows the police to have sex with prostitutes and Hawaii doesn’t need to, either.
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