Exemption for Police Sex|With Prostitutes Faces Vote

     HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii lawmakers will consider this week the fate of an exemption that gives undercover police officers a free pass to have sex with prostitutes during sting operations.
     Having already passed the House, HB 1926 faces a vote Wednesday in the Hawaii Senate’s Judiciary Committee. The original version of the law had not included any mention of the exemption, which NPR reports has been on the books since 1972, but the force lobbied to have it included.
     It appears under a heading of the bill titled “solicitation of a minor for prostitution.”
     As the bill went to the Senate on Friday, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported that police have not said how often or even whether they use the exemption.
     Department officials have reportedly assured legislators that internal policies and procedures prevent exploitation of the rule by officers.
     Testimony given to the Senate committee Friday included a call by the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery for removal of the exemption.
     “The dangers of allowing law enforcement to engage in sexual penetration with prostituted persons include abuse of power, sexual assault, and conflict of interest relationships between law enforcement and the illegal sex industry,” a letter to the committee from PASS executive director Kathryn Xian states.
     “While, PASS has not completed its survey of all jurisdictions in the U.S., we are near certain that no other state in the nation allows for this type of ‘interpersonal’ and highly problematic ‘investigative tool’ to facilitate prostitution arrests. Other states such as Illinois, California, New York, Washington D.C., Texas, and Georgia – states with high rates of sex trafficking and prostitution – do not allow sexual penetration to be used by law enforcement during prostitution investigations yet have no problem completing successful investigations and arrests.”
     The committee meanwhile received letters supporting passage of the bill as is, with the police exemption, from the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.
     Kris Coffield, legislative director of IMUAlliance, said police should be exempted “unless the action includes sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse.”
     “Contrary to some departmental assertions, victims are not forcing themselves on police in a sexually aggressive manner, but are actually quite reserved about initial contact with prospective customers so as to avoid arrest,” Coffield wrote. “More importantly, when undercover police engage in sexual conduct with and subsequently detain a victim, the act confirms the oft-repeated myth that cops only want to harm and or take advantage of victims, and will not offer assistance. This cycle of re-traumatization can be detrimental to the successful rehabilitation of a victim and prosecution of sex-traffickers.”
     Reps. Cynthia Thielen and Della Au Bellati demanded elimination of the exemption in a joint letter.
     “This section is unnecessary and will undoubtedly lead to sexual abuse without repercussion,” they wrote. “Other states manage to prosecute prostitution at a high rate without allowing law enforcement to use sexual penetration during investigations.”
     Chief Deputy Public Defender Timothy Ho said the bill improperly upgrades solicitation of a minor for prostitution as a violent sexual offense. The bill also emphasizes the mere representation by a prostitute that she is a minor.
     “The state should be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally, knowingly or recklessly offered or agreed to pay a fee to a minor to engage in sexual conduct,” Ho wrote. “A prostitute or undercover police officer may tell a defendant that she is a minor, and not believe her claim. It may be obvious to the defendant, who would never engage in sexual conduct with a minor, that the other person is not under the age of eighteen. While the defendant may offer or agree to engage in sexual conduct with the other person believing that the person is not a minor, under this measure, he will have committed the offense of soliciting a minor for prostitution.”
     Attorney General David Louie and Deputy Attorney General Lance Goto said the provision needs work.
     They wrote: “To make the intent for strict liability clear, the department recommends the following amendment on page 8, lines 4-6, so that it reads as follows:
     “(5) The state-of-mind requirement for this offense is not applicable to the fact that the person solicited was a minor. A person is strictly liable with respect to the attendant circumstance that the person solicited was a minor under the age of eighteen.”

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