Michigan Bill Would Ban Cops From ‘Sex’ With Sex Workers

Because believe it or not, state law currently provides police officers with immunity from laws against prostitution

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Mar 03, 2017 at 4:03 PM ET

Michigan is the only state in the country that lets cops have “sex” with sex workers during an investigation — or, one might say, the state condones sexual abuse, since the act would be based on deceit and thus nonconsensual.

But Rep. Gary Glenn is hoping to finally change the state’s law with a bill that the Republican lawmaker plans to introduce this year. “It seems like a no brainer,” said Marc Jordan, Rep. Glenn’s chief of staff.

Bridgette Carr, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, originally pushed for the new bill and says that it’s hard to know whether law enforcement has taken advantage of the existing law, which provides investigating cops with immunity from laws against prostitution. “We wouldn’t know, because they have immunity,” she said, “so no one could bring a claim against them.”

“We don’t have any instances where police have abused this, but it came to our attention,” Jordan said. “It should be an easy fix.”

We do know that sex workers report high rates of police officer sexual misconduct. Reports by the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center found up to 17 percent of sex workers reported sexual harassment and abuse by cops. Savannah Sly, president of the Sex Workers Outreach Project’s board of directors, says that police officers are common on “bad date lists,” which are circulated among sex workers to warn about potentially dangerous clients.

A few headline-making cases have recently brought attention to these kinds of police abuses. In 2015, Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of using his position of power to coerce more than a dozen women into sex. Just recently, the Oakland, California, police department, and several nearby police departments, were rocked when a teenage sex worker alleged that she had sex with more than two dozen officers — and some while underage.

“I know from talking to my own clients that people who say they are cops often abuse them — whether those individuals are actually cops, I don’t know,” said Carr, who is the founding director of the university’s Human Trafficking Clinic and has worked with human trafficking survivors. “But any time that there are laws on the book that give extra power to the already powerful against the vulnerable, we need to be really careful about that.”

Sly believes that this bill is necessary to correct Michigan’s current “abhorrent” law, but she’s realistic about its limitations. “The sex worker community feels that whether there is an official policy or not, that undercover police do have sexual contact with sex workers while investigating them,” she said. “I applaud these efforts, but I’m skeptical that, even regardless of the presence of this policy, that this is isn’t already happening in other parts of the country.”