They also assured lawmakers that internal policies and procedures are in place to prevent officers from taking advantage of it. The Honolulu police vice officers who investigate prostitution haven't been accused of sexual wrongdoing in recent memory, spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in an email, but added that in 2011 a parole officer was fired after being charged and convicted of sexual assault against a prostitute.
Advocates warn that the provision is an invitation for misconduct.
"Police abuse is part of the life of prostitution," said Melissa Farley, the executive director of the San Francisco-based group Prostitution Research and Education. Farley said that in places without such police protections "women who have escaped prostitution" commonly report being coerced into giving police sexual favors to keep from being arrested.
"It doesn't help your case, and at worst you further traumatize someone," said Derek Marsh, who trains California police in best practices on human trafficking cases and twice has testified to Congress about the issue. "And do you think he or she is going to trust a cop again?"
Charlie Fuller, executive director of the International Association of Undercover Officers, laughed when he heard about the Hawaii law. Contrary to Hollywood movies that portray undercover officers having to break the law to blend in with bad guys, Fuller said good investigators always have other options.
"A good undercover," he said, "is going to get probable cause before they have to cross that line."