Hawaii lawmakers vow ban on undercover police having sex with prostitutes

Police were given legal protection permitting them to have sex with prostitutes as part of undercover investigations

Lawmakers in Hawaii have vowed to ban a controversial legal protection allowing police officers working undercover to have sex with prostitutes as part of their investigations.

The exemption in the state's prostitution law permitted police to have sex as part of their undercover work.

A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution was originally written to remove the sex exemption for officers on duty, but it was amended to restore that protection after police testimony.

The revised proposal has passed the state House and went before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, where Committee Chairman Clayton Hee said he would amend the bill and make police having sex with prostitutes illegal.

"I will tell you that without question I can't imagine police officers being exempt from the law," he said. "To condone police officers' sexual penetration in making arrests is simply nonsensical to me," he said.

"You can expect that exemption will be out of the recommendations of the chair."

Honolulu police have urged lawmakers to keep the exemption and claim they needed the legal protection to catch lawbreakers in the act.

According to a report by The Associated Press, they argued prostitutes will insist on sex to identify undercover officers and said the law was vital in helping them catch criminals.

"The procedures and conduct of the undercover officers are regulated by department rules, which by nature have to be confidential," Honolulu Police Major Jerry Inouye told the House Judiciary Committee last month.

"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."

Critics have long argued the measure is unnecessary and fear it could further victimise sex workers and prostitutes, many of whom have been coerced into the trade.

Melissa Farley, executive director of the San-Francisco based Prostitution Research and Education told KCBS she was concerned officers could exploit the exemption.

“I’m not aware of it anyplace in the United States, or the world, where cops are permitted to sexually exploit those in prostitution - legally,” she said.

“We all know it goes on but usually a police force will challenge, arrest or fire a cop that extorts sex acts from somebody in prostitution; It’s an abuse.”

Defence lawyer Myles Breiner testified that his clients who are prostitutes often complain to him that police have sex with them before making an arrest.

"My concern is public respect for the law," Mr Breiner told lawmakers. "How do we expect people to follow the law when the police engage in criminal conduct?

Honolulu police did not attend Friday's hearing, which Mr Hee noted, describing their absence as "deafening."

Additional reporting by Associated Press