Honolulu police officers have urged lawmakers to keep an exemption in state law that allows undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes during investigations, touching off a heated debate.
Authorities say they need the legal protection to catch lawbreakers. Critics, including human trafficking experts and other police, say it's unnecessary and could further victimise sex workers, many of whom have been forced into the trade.
Police haven't said how often – or even if – they use the provision. And when they asked legislators to preserve it, they made assurances that internal policies and procedures are in place to prevent officers from taking advantage of it.
But expert Derek Marsh says the exemption is "antiquated at best" and that police can easily do without it.
"It doesn't help your case, and at worst you further traumatise someone. And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?" asked Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue.
A Hawaii bill cracking down on prostitution was originally written to scrap the sex exemption for officers on duty. It was amended to restore that protection after police testimony. The revised proposal passed the state House and will go before a Senate committee.
It's not immediately clear whether similar provisions are in place elsewhere as state law or department policy.