Earlier this month, Honolulu cops went undercover to local massage parlors for a sting co-plotted with federal agents. When women working there failed to provide them with grounds for prostitution charges, which require explicit arrangement for payment, the cops arrested 16 masseuses for sexual assault in the fourth degree. The offense is defined as forced sexual contact or exposing your own genitals in a way likely to cause alarm; asked what the women did to justify these charges, a Honolulu Police Department (HPD) spokesperson said that details would “come out in court.” But now the city’s top prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro, has decided to dismiss charges against all 16 of those arrested.
A sudden bout of compassion or constitutional concern from Kaneshiro? Ha! More like the city just couldn’t make the charges stick. “Although the conduct might have constituted a technical violation of the law, proof beyond a reasonable doubt could not be established,” Kaneshiro said in a statement. “Therefore, these cases were dismissed.”
Lawyer Myles Breiner, who represented several of the women, told the Associated Press that in at least one instance an officer disrobed and then took the woman’s hand and physically placed it on his genitals. “They’re experimenting with the limits of the constitution,” said Breiner. “Sex assault in the fourth degree is a non-consensual touching of a sexual nature. How can you say it’s not consensual when the officers are going into these establishments intending to be touched?”
Despite the sexual assault charges being dropped, this isn’t such a happy ending for some of the massage parlor workers, who were in the country illegally. Deportation proceedings for these women are now underway, according to AP.
By way of a statement about the incident, HPD offered a letter sent last week to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “In prostitution-related cases, the Honolulu Police Department’s ultimate target has always been those who profit from exploiting others,” the statement began. And it shares that goal with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, which both helped organize and fund this important undercover mission. “HPD is working with these agencies on a strategy that focuses on pimps, massage parlor owners, others who promote prostitution and those who engage in the trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation,” the letter continued. And yet somehow, it’s only women engaging in sex work (willingly or not) who got burned by this investigation! Funny how that always seems to be the case.
Or perhaps “sadly intentional” is a better descriptor—as the letter admits, police and federal agents routinely rely on individuals arrested for prostitution in order to make cases against alleged sex traffickers or pimps. Because these “victims” are generally loathe to cooperate, prosecutors rely on the prostitution charges as a bargaining chip.