Civil Liberties

Massage Parlor Workers 'Sexually Assault' Honolulu Cops

Not-so-happy ending for sex workers in Honolulu massage parlors


Around this time last year, Hawaii police officers were fighting for their right to have intercourse with sex workers before arresting them. It's a battle they ultimately lost, though cops retained the ability to receive pay-for-play handjobs and blowjobs with impunity. Still, police don't take well to limits on their power, as evidenced by Honolulu's escalating criminalization of commercial sex These days, offering to engage in prostitution may get you charged with sexual assault.

In a sting over the weekend, the Honolulu Police Department arrested 16 women working at area massage parlors. But rather than charge them with prostitution—a petty misdemeanor with a max 30 days jail time—per usual, the women were booked for sexual assault in the fourth degree.

Sexual assault in the fourth degree is defined as forced sexual contact, "knowingly expos(ing) the … genitals to another person under circumstances in which the actor's conduct is likely to alarm the other person or put the other person in fear of bodily injury," or trespassing on property for "the purpose of subjecting another person to surreptitious surveillance for the sexual gratification of the actor." It's a misdemeanor, still, but one that comes with up to a year in jail and possible placement on the sex offender registry.

See, now that Hawaii cops can't sleep with sex workers in order to make prostitution cases, they must rely on explicit conversation about the transaction. But most massage parlor workers know not to be explicit in this way. Instead, they may simply gauge the situation and then start in on sexual action without hashing out the details first—aka, without getting consent. That's what allows these enterprising cops to charge sex workers with sexual assault.

Nevermind that the cops wanted it—what are you, some kind of police-rape denialist?

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the undercover operation was a joint effort of her department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. "Details of the cases will come out in court," said Yu in a statement.