Lawmakers in Hawaii are debating an exemption that currently allows undercover cops to have sex with prostitutes... during their official, professional investigations, of course.
The law has received criticism from human trafficking experts, worried that it can unnecessarily "victimize sex workers," reports The Associated Press. Many in law enforcement, however, argue that they need the legal protection to literally catch prostitutes in the act.
So is it time to say "aloha" (as in "goodbye," not hello) to sex with prostitutes?
Anti-Prostitution Bill Triggers Debate
Although prostitution and solicitation are both crimes in the Aloha State, having sex with a prostitute may be legal -- if you're a cop.
Hawaii's prostitution law criminalizes paying for or accepting money to engage in sexual conduct, unless that person is law enforcement "acting in the course and scope of duties."
A bill cracking down on prostitution, HB 1926, was scheduled to go before a Hawaii Senate committee on Friday. HB 1926 had originally intended to remove the prostitution exemption for police officers, but it was later amended after police officers testified to its use, reports the AP.
One state legislator, Rep. Karl Rhoads, was convinced of the law's need in fighting prostitution, but said he hopes officers are "not having sex with prostitutes." There are a variety of legal limits to undercover operations and sex stings, but Hawaii seemed poised to protect its officers in these situations.
Potential Undercover Misconduct Unknown
Opponents of this sex exemption for police officers aren't taking this news lying down. Lauren Hersh, a former prosecutor and an advocate with the human-rights group Equality Now, believes this exemption is "so dissimilar" from allowing undercover officers in narcotics busts to use illegal drugs, reports the AP.
Police officers may face discipline within their own ranks for undercover sexual activities, and they often have to answer to disciplinary boards when using their weapons -- even if no criminal charges are filed.
Even if police officers are disciplined for stepping out of the bounds of this law, police discipline in Hawaii isn't disclosed to the public. According to the AP, it would be "impossible to know" if an on-duty officer had been disciplined for sleeping with a sex worker.
What, then, is to stop officers from potentially abusing this system and (quite literally) the sex workers?
Apparently prosecution isn't totally out of the question. Michelle Yu, a Honolulu police spokeswoman, told the AP that a patrol officer was fired for sexually assaulting a prostitute in 2011.
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