Sex Work

Hawaii Cops Demand the Right to Have Sex With Hookers

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Comedy Central

Hawaii's prostitution law includes an exemption for "any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties." A bill that the state legislature is considering originally would have limited that exemption to exclude "sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse." In response to police objections, that qualification was eliminated; the current version of the bill, which was unanimously approved by the state House of Representatives earlier this month and is now before the state Senate, leaves the exemption as it is.

That's right: Cops insisted that they must be free not just to receive blowjobs and handjobs from prostitutes but also to engage in vaginal and anal intercourse with them. Evidently the police also need permission to engage in "flagellation or torture by or upon a person as an act of sexual stimulation or gratification" (Hawaii's definition of "sadomasochistic abuse"). Just in case. Since an entire chamber of the state legislature agreed to this request, the cops must have had a pretty persuasive argument. Here it is, as summed up by Jason Kawabata, captain of the Honolulu Police Department's Narcotics/Vice Division:

As written, this bill would nullify the exemption if the officer agrees to pay a fee for sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse. This would limit the type of violations law enforcement officers are able to enforce. Even if the intent of the amendment is merely to limit actual conduct by the officer, we must oppose it. Codifying the limitations on an officer's conduct would greatly assist pimps and prostitutes in their efforts to avoid prosecution.

In other words, if it were generally known that police are not allowed to engage in sexual penetration or sadomasochistic abuse with prostitutes, suspicious hookers might insist that undercover officers do so to show they are not cops. When those officers balked, their status as agents of law enforcement would be revealed. That scenario seems rather implausible, since a person commits the offense of prostitution as soon as she "agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person for a fee." For Kawabata's fear to be realized, a prostitute would need to have sex first to make sure her customer was not a cop, then negotiate payment afterward, which does not seem like a very good business strategy.

Critics of the exemption argue that it is unnecessary, that it invites abuse, and that it could inflict additional trauma on women coerced into prostitution. More fundamentally, the double standard demanded by police highlights the utter absurdity of prostitution laws. Police do not commit murder to catch killers or knock over banks to catch robbers. Yet here they are insisting that they need the leeway to have sex with prostitutes in order to stop people from having sex with prostitutes. Even if cops never take advantage of that freedom, they routinely commit the crime of agreeing to pay for sex, except that in their case it is not treated as a crime. That exemption is considered acceptable only because exchanging money for sex, unlike murder and robbery, does not violate anyone's rights. But if so, why not broaden the exemption to cover everyone?