Honolulu attorneys question sexual assault arrest tactics in prostitution stings

"Prostitution" arrest tactic in question

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The controversy over recent prostitution stings in Honolulu has defense attorneys crying foul.

During the past week, Honolulu police have arrested 16 women at local massage parlors and relaxation spas for sexual assault but not for prostitution. The assault charge is because the women allegedly groped the officers.

But attorney Myles Breiner, who represents several of the women, said his clients were forced to touch the men after they refused the officers' solicitations for sex.

"To charge (the women) with sex assault in the fourth degree is so ludicrous it's such an abuse of authority," said attorney Myles Breiner. "They're being compelled to engage in a crime they never engaged in."

As the law stands now, a prostitution arrest only requires an agreement on price. Often times, the women at these massage parlors or spas won't state a price if they believe they are talking to an undercover officer.

"They (police) are having difficulty making their cases ... so as a result, the officers engaged in sexual conduct or allowed themselves to be touched," Breiner said.

The controversy over the arrests comes after HPD's past arrest tactics on prostitution cases have come under heavy criticism.

Last year, police officials asked state lawmakers for a legal exemption to allow undercover officers to have sex with prostitutes. That measure failed under intense public pressure.

Honolulu police said the latest arrests were in response to numerous complaints about prostitution activity.

"Sex trafficking is a very serious issue, and the HPD, FBI, and (Homeland Security) work closely to identify victims and to get them the services that they need," HPD said in a statement.

Legal experts said this new approach raises legal questions because a solicitation for sex implies consent.

"It's not a sexual assault. It perverts what the whole statute is about. The sexual assault statute says you can't force me by compulsion to engage in some kind of sexual activity," Lawson said.

"For the sexual assault (charges), I think it does raise questions of entrapment."

The charge, sexual assault in the fourth degree, is punishable by up to a year in jail. It's a charge that's usually applied when someone is accused of groping another person.

The women are expected to be in court at the end of the month and will likely plead not guilty. Breiner said he will ask for a jury trial.

He said they want contest their cases because many are not U.S. citizens and can have their green cards revoked.

A conviction also requires them to register as sex offenders.

"None of these women had any intention of sexually assaulting these undercover officers," Breiner said.

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