About 1 p.m. on Dec. 19, a man walked into the Dove Spa, a massage parlor in a nondescript Carmel commercial strip, and asked for the services of one of the women working there.
What the woman didn’t know was the man was an undercover police officer, wearing a wire. And what the woman did next, detectives now allege, was illegal: In exchange for $100 plus a $35 tip, she fondled the officer’s genitals.
Four more times the officer went back (really?), according to a probable-cause affidavit released this week. During that time, over five months, the officer also visited a massage parlor in Zionsville. And each time, he allowed the women — all Chinese immigrants — to fondle him in exchange for cash, all in a fight against prostitution and human trafficking.
Officers say such methods led to a victory for Carmel and Zionsville on Wednesday, when 30 officers raided two businesses, arresting six people — four alleged prostitutes and two alleged pimps.
But the methods police say were needed to shut down a sophisticated prostitution ring were criticized Thursday by legal and law-enforcement experts and women’s advocates as excessive, unnecessary and misapplied to an investigation that involved possible human trafficking.
They say that prostitutes can be arrested and charged in Indiana as soon as an agreement to pay for a sex act is made. Intimate contact was not required. Plus, some said, if the women indeed had been victims of sexual exploitation, working in the sex trade against their will, the sex acts they performed on the officer only contributed to their humiliation, exploitation and degradation.
“How do you simultaneously say you’re protecting them by arresting them, but then you’re victimizing them by your undercoverstuff?” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor who’s now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “If they’re in fact exploited and … their free will is overwhelmed by the people they’re working for, then are you helping them or are they being doubly victimized? Is this official victimization by the state?”