HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Police arrested several women during a prostitution sting in Honolulu. But the women have not been arrested for prostitution, and some say the women shouldn't have been arrested at all.
It's an apparent new strategy police are using in their latest massage parlor crackdown. It's still unclear exactly how the sting was carried out, but the police's efforts are being both applauded and criticized.
With names like “Nirvana,” “Yokohama” and “Roses,” they don't look like much from the outside. But look up their addresses online, and they pop up on sex websites. On the sites, you'll find erotic pictures of women near massage tables, listing their names and ages.
Those three businesses are among the 10 massage parlors where Honolulu police officers arrested more than a dozen women near Ala Moana over the weekend. The ages range from 24 years old to 56 years old. They have all been arrested for sexual assault in the fourth degree.
Former Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle says although it's the lowest level of sex assault, it's still a harsher punishment than a prostitution charge.
"Some people are wondering why this isn't just prostitution. Because prostitution typically handled two people who were engaged in consensual sex for a fee. This is not consensual. It involves somebody doing something that's forceful,” Carlisle said.
Sex assault in the fourth degree includes the word "compulsion" which is defined in the
as the “absence of consent, or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of public humiliation, property damage, or financial loss.”
“There's a more severe offense now. Instead of being a petty misdemeanor which carries only 30 days in jail, now it's been elevated to the level of a full misdemeanor which could mean a full year in jail," said Carlisle.
Kathryn Xian, Executive Director of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, has worked with hundreds of survivors of sex trafficking. She's appalled that HPD arrested the women and not the men.
"We think that this is a clear example of abuse of power," she said.
The arrests were made on Young Street, Keeaumoku Street, South Beretania Street, South King Street, Atkinson Drive, Kona Street and Ilaniwai Street. Xian says there are over 100 brothels in Honolulu alone.
"We have assisted victims and survivors who have come out of brothels such as these massage parlors that are as young as 15 years old, brutally beaten, and forced into these brothels, these working situations…this clearly sends a message to victims in brothels that they can't look to the HPD for help," Xian said.
HPD says this operation was conducted in response to several complaints from the public.