Police in Honolulu faced criticism for their unsuccessful attempt to draw sexual assault charges against 16 local massage parlor workers during a sting operation earlier this month, the Associated Press reported.
Attorney Myles Breiner, who is representing some of the women, said at least one officer took a worker’s hand and placed it on his groin after disrobing, then accused her of sexual assault.
“Sex assault in the fourth degree is a nonconsensual touching of a sexual nature,” Breiner said. “How can you say it’s not consensual when the officers are going into these establishments intending to be touched?”
City prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro announced on Wednesday that the assault charges against the women would be dropped due to lack of evidence. If convicted on those charges, the women would have been required to register as sex offenders and spent up to a year in jail.
Authorities said in a statement that they set the operation up in response to community complaints, and that “more information will come out in court.” The women are scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.
Breiner told KITV-TV that authorities were instead “re-victimizing the victims.”
“The notion that they’re going after the pimps is completely ludicrous,” he said. “It’s just more lies compounded by the notion that they’re somehow helping the public by enforcing these prostitution laws by further criminalizing women and victimizing them as sex assault victims.”
Police spokesperson Michelle Yu said in a separate statement that the department had met with experts on human trafficking and social workers regarding the dismissed cases.
“Thus far the discussion has not yielded or produced a viable police strategy that does not involve the enforcement of prostitution laws,” Yu stated.
The operation came less than a year after authorities lobbied for the right to retain the ability to have sex with escorts while on duty as part of a state statute. Lawmakers subsequently revoked the exemption.
Watch KITV’s report, as aired on Wednesday, below.