Crazy States: WTF Hawaii?!

It’s been almost four months since our last edition of Crazy States, but we’re back with a biggie.

Hawaii’s in the process of passing a bill (HB 1926) that cracks down on a number of crimes, including prostitution. One of the things the original draft of the bill did was stipulate that police are not allowed to have sex with prostitutes in the pursuit of an investigation. Seems pretty straightforward, right? While there are some exceptions, like undercover cops being allowed to do drugs if it’s required in order for them to maintain cover, police are not allowed to break the law in order to enforce the law. But Hawaii police disagree. It turns out that for a long time in Hawaii, police have been allowed to have sex with prostitutes, and they’ve testified that they need to keep doing it.

It’s important to understand that there’s a huge overlap between prostitution and sex trafficking. A lot of people believe that most prostitutes are adults who have ‘chosen’ their profession, but the reality is that many were abducted, tricked, or sold into prostitution, and are being held there through a combination of violence, economic slavery, forced addiction, and a number of other tools of modern slavery. The average age of a trafficked prostitute is 13. Trafficked prostitutes are common in Hawaii, as the islands are a convenient stop between Asia and the US, are hubs for tourists and the military, and receive a steady flow of low-wage foreign agricultural workers and their families.

So if a police officer has sex with a prostitute, there’s a good chance he is adding to the exploitation and traumatizing of a child trafficking victim. In addition to the obvious ethical issue, Derek Marsh (who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue) points out that such a practice worsens victims’ already entrenched distrust of police. Why the distrust?

“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…

 

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.

On the upside, HB 1926 proposes increased penalties for johns and pimps, while prostitution itself would remain a petty misdemeanor. But the bill has been amended to allow police to continue having sex with prostitutes, has passed the Hawaii state House, and is headed to the Senate.

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