Hawaii police call for 'undercover' prostitution law

A Honolulu Police Department car sits on the street in Kailua, Hawaii, on 26 December 2008 Hawaii police officers argue the rules governing their undercover operations must remain confidential in order to be effective

Police officials in the US state of Hawaii have asked the state's legislature to keep a measure in the law allowing undercover investigators to have sex with prostitutes.

The authorities say it enables them to catch criminals in the act. Critics say it could hurt women who are already victims of sex trafficking.

Local police have not said how often the provision has been used.

The measure has already passed the state House of Representatives.

It is expected to be heard in a Senate committee on Friday.

'Further trauma'

"It's a really murky area," Democratic state Representative Karl Rhoads told local media.

"This is one area where I did defer to [authorities] and say, 'I hope you're not having sex with prostitutes.'"

An anti-prostitution bill introduced this legislative session was originally written to close the police exemption. But following police testimony, the exemption was restored.

Honolulu Police Maj Jerry Inouye told the state House judiciary committee that the rules governing the conduct of undercover officers must remain confidential "because if prostitution suspects, pimps and other people are privy to that information, they're going to know exactly how far the undercover officer can and cannot go".

But human trafficking experts argue the exemption is unnecessary and could erode trust between police and victims of sex trafficking.

"It doesn't help your case, and at worst you further traumatise someone," Derek Marsh, who trains California police on human trafficking cases, told the Associated Press news agency.

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