Teaming up with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, police in Hawaii have caused controversy after arresting sixteen women at local massage parlors and relaxation spas for sexual assault after goading, and even forcing them to engage in sexual activity.
Until just a year ago, Hawaii police officers were legally allowed to have sex with prostitutes as part of investigations. After intense public pressure however, state lawmakers changed that law.
In order to have a successful prosecution, undercover officers must get sex-workers to agree on a sex act and a price. If no specific price is agreed on, no prostitution charges can be filed.
Sex-workers know this, and now in Hawaii, they also know police can’t have sex with them so police are trying to get around that difficulty, an attorney representing several of the women charged, Myles Breiner said.
Hence the sexual assault charges. The women could not be charged with prostitution because they never verbally agreed.
Breiner says several of his clients were forced to touch the officers after refusing their solicitations for sex. In one instance, at a massage parlor called Orchid Relaxation on April 30, Breiner claims an officer disrobed, took the woman’s hand and forcibly put it on his genitals.
“To charge [the women] with sex[ual] assault in the fourth degree is so ludicrous it’s such an abuse of authority,” Breiner said. “They’re being compelled to engage in a crime they never engaged in. None of these women had any intention of sexually assaulting these undercover officers.”
Honolulu police say the recent sting resulted from numerous complaints about prostitution activity and unlicensed cosmetology and massage businesses in the area and was aimed at helping the victims of sex trafficking.
Hawaii is the only state in the nation not to have sex trafficking laws on the books, something lawmakers hope to rectify this year.
“Sex trafficking is a very serious issue, and the HPD, FBI, and [Homeland Security] work closely to identify victims and to get them the services that they need,” Honolulu police said in a statement.
Just a thought HPD: If the women are sex slaves, how is charging them with sexual assault helping them? To the contrary, sexual assault in the fourth degree carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. Also, the women would be required to register as sex offenders, something I’m sure would really advance their long-term prospects.
The tactics employed by the Honolulu Police Department are extremely unusual for a law enforcement agency, legal experts and sex-worker advocates say.
“It’s not a sexual assault. It perverts what the whole statute is about. The sexual assault statute says you can’t force me by compulsion to engage in some kind of sexual activity,” University of Hawaii law professor Ken Lawson said. “For the sexual assault [charges], I think it does raise questions of entrapment.”
The Honolulu Police Department maintains the officers were not having sex with the workers but have not commented more directly about the tactics utilized during the sting or the women’s claims of forced engagement.
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