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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One California Judge is Trying to Fix the Way US Courts Treat Sex Trafficking Victims

Hoo boy. This is one of those pieces that makes you want to stop everything you’re doing and find a way to help.

A lot of young women – often very young women – who work as prostitutes all over the world are there because they’re victims of sex trafficking. They were abducted, tricked, or even sold by their families into sexual slavery, working under threat of violence to pay off a ‘debt’ that never diminishes. Yet in the US, it’s not the pimps or johns who get arrested when the cops show up – it’s the girls; and instead of helping them escape slavery, the system makes their lives even worse.

“But in Los Angeles County, Judge Catherine Pratt has set up a special juvenile court to help victims of sex trafficking.

During the last few years, Pratt has been consumed by her work helping young victims of sex trafficking get treated as just that: victims. She says it’s been a tough battle because the justice system treats anyone who sells sex as a criminal — even a child.

In normal juvenile courts, young women who are picked up for prostitution don’t get counseling and other services — they get punished. Girls can be sentenced to juvenile detention or forced to testify against their exploiter…

Pratt remembers one case that made her believe the system was broken. A young girl was asked to testify against her pimp, in a public adult court, in a case that involved her being drugged into unconsciousness. She was asked by the district attorney to review a tape of the incident, which she had never seen, and identify the defendants in the court.”

I cannot even.

In a desperate search for an upside, thank goodness awareness of this crisis is beginning to gain traction, and people like Judge Catherine Pratt are working to find ways to enact some desperately needed change.