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Lawmakers Plan to End Prostitution Exemption for Hawaii Cops

Flickr / Civil Beat
Flickr / Civil Beat

Lawmakers are going forward with changes to a bill that would end a police exemption allowing undercover cops to have sex with prostitutes. It’s all part of an overall move to crack down on prostitution in the state. According to the state’s prostitution laws, police officers are exempt -- technically making it legal for them to have sex with prostitutes during an investigation.

House Bill 1926 originally eliminated the sex exemption for officers on duty. But after law enforcement officials testified in favor of the exemption in February, the bill was amended to restore it.

Police say the law helps them catch sex workers in the act. Critics of the provision say it’s unnecessary and further traumatizes those who have been forced into prostitution.

The Honolulu Police Department did not attend Friday’s hearing held by the State Senate Judiciary Committee about the exemption. Committee Chairman Clayton Hee says no officials testified on their behalf. 

Senator Hee says he plans to change the bill and kill the exemption. When the vote is held next Friday, he expects it to pass.

The Honolulu Police Department released the following statement Friday: 

Recent news reports claimed that the Honolulu Police Department urged lawmakers to keep an exemption in state law that allows undercover officers to engage in sex with prostitutes. This statement is misleading and inaccurate.

First and foremost, the HPD asked the legislature to keep the existing language in the exception. The HPD did not ask for permission to engage in sexual conduct with prostitutes. 

Under Hawaii law (HRS Section 712-1200), merely agreeing to pay a fee for sexual conduct constitutes a violation of the statute thus, the exemption for police officers is necessary so they can conduct prostitution investigations. If there was no exemption, officers would not be able to respond to a verbal offer from a suspected prostitute. This does not mean that officers are allowed to engage in sexual penetration.

The HPD has never asked the legislature to allow officers to engage in sex with prostitutes. When HB 1926 was originally drafted, it contained language that allowed the law enforcement exemption UNLESS "the act" involved sexual penetration or deviate sexual intercourse. It was poorly worded so the department asked the committee to omit that sentence, or our officers would not have been able to respond to even a verbal offer of sexual intercourse from a suspected prostitute - one of the most common prostitution violations. The request was NOT made to allow officers to engage in sexual penetration. If we were to codify these rules, we would be publicly revealing specific undercover officer guidelines and Hawaii's prostitutes, "pimps," and johns would be able to use the information to avoid prosecution and continue their illegal activity. 

The department is keenly aware that prostitutes are often victims of human trafficking or other offenses. Because of this, we work closely with the Hawaii Coalition Against Human Trafficking and other community groups. Our goal is to conduct fair, accurate investigations, taking into consideration the need for prosecution as well as the need to protect the innocent. To accomplish this, we maintain careful oversight of all prostitution cases. There are strict written guidelines to regulate the conduct of officers conducting prostitution investigations.   

Molly Solomon
Molly Solomon joined HPR in May 2012 as an intern for the morning talk show The Conversation. She has since worn a variety of hats around the station, doing everything from board operator to producer.
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