By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In what is proffered to be helpful in the combat of prostitution and the underlying organized crime that often promotes this, members of the Honolulu, Hawaii police department have requested legislative authority to engage in sexual relations with prostitutes in order to further infiltrate the illegal profession.
This was an amendment to a bill that would expand the enforcement and prosecution of sex industry players that has passed the state House and is coming before a Senate committee.
Authorities say they need the legal protection to catch lawbreakers in the act, and strict internal controls prohibit misconduct. But is this a novel idea to break up the sex traffic industry or one that may lead to exploitation of its vulnerable members?
[For full disclosure your author has a family member who is a Honolulu Police Officer.]
“The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential,” Honolulu Police Maj. Jerry Inouye recently told the House Judiciary Committee. “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.” The bill aims to ratchet up penalties on johns and pimps while leaving the punishment for selling sex as a petty misdemeanor.
Partaking in criminal activities is an expected reality of undercover assignments. Many states have laws that permit law enforcement officers to use illegal drugs while on duty to help gain acceptance into the criminal enterprise and infiltrate it as well as arresting those who sell controlled substances. In fact, many criminal organizations have required “pledges” to engage in illegal activity in order to help screen out police officers. When this is done, it is incumbent to report these otherwise illegal activities to their agency as soon as permissible.
Doing so, especially with regard to controlled substances has caused several officers over the years to become addicted and had to take medical retirements. The risks certainly would be present with prostitution from sexually transmitted diseases and other hazards.
But critics, including human trafficking experts and other police, say it’s unnecessary and can further victimize sex workers, many of whom have been forced into the trade.
Expert Derek Marsh says the exemption is “antiquated at best” and that police can easily do their jobs without it.
“It doesn’t help your case, and at worst you further traumatize someone. And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?” asked Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue.
It’s not immediately clear whether there are similar provisions in place elsewhere either at the state law or department policy level. But advocates were shocked that Hawaii provides an exemption to prostitution laws for police, suggesting it’s an invitation for misconduct.
“Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution,” said Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley said that in places without such police protections “women who have escaped prostitution” commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested or harassed.
There have been instances of police being accused of victimizing sex workers across the nation. In Philadelphia, a former officer is on trial facing charges of raping two prostitutes after forcing them at gunpoint to take narcotics. A former West Sacramento, Calif., officer is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of raping prostitutes in his police cruiser while on patrol. And last year in Massachusetts, a former police officer pleaded guilty to extorting sex from prostitutes he threatened with arrest.
There are many nuances and novelties on this approach to prostitution. What do you think?
By Darren Smith
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