Carrying condoms isn’t illegal anywhere in the country, but if you’re in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time, having this form of contraception could be used as evidence to make a prostitution arrest.
Condom confiscation has been an issue in many major US cities, and in 2012, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch found that police in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York were specifically using condoms as evidence of prostitution. This practice has led to a huge backlash from public health officials, advocacy organizations, and average citizens who view the policy as absurd and violating.
As a result, the New York Police Department recently announced that they would be significantly limiting the confiscation of condoms as evidence in prostitution-related cases. The announcement, which was backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City’s five district attorneys, will allow police to continue using condoms as evidence in felony sex crime cases, such as sex trafficking, but will ease up when it comes to misdemeanor crimes such as prostitution.
Announcement from New York Police is Long Overdue
The policy change in New York comes as good news, both for sex workers and those who worried that they could be profiled and accused of prostitution just because they were carrying condoms. Human Rights Watch, who interviewed over 200 prostitutes for their 2012 report, learned that police officers were stopping and harassing suspected prostitutes with no probable cause and using the condoms they found in their possession as evidence of guilt.
Because of this, a significant number of interviewees said they started carrying fewer condoms or engaging in unprotected sex due to their fear of getting caught with contraceptives. Unprotected sex obviously carries a greater risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections than sex with protection, and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS has spoken out against condom confiscation as an HIV-specific law that is “fueling the epidemic rather than reducing it.”
With the NYPD’s new policy in place, sex workers will hopefully be able to better protect their health without fear of persecution, while police will be able to focus on capturing the criminals who commit human rights violations such as sex trafficking.
Other Major Cities Need to Follow Suit
While the policy in New York is certainly a good start, other major cities need to adopt similar policies in order to protect the rights of people nationwide. Prostitution convictions can be severe, ranging from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony depending on the state of residence, and the fear of getting caught will likely continue to deter many sex workers from using protection if their local law enforcement is using the possession of condoms as criminal evidence.
In some cities, the possession of condoms is still used as the basis for harassment, as well as arrests. Human Rights Watch interviewed one woman in New Orleans who said that police once came to a bar she was at and asked all transgender women to step outside. When they did, the police checked the women for condoms and arrested them for attempted solicitation, even though there was no evidence that any illegal activity had occurred. Based on 169 interviews with sex workers in New Orleans, Human Rights Watch found that more than a third were carrying fewer condoms and more than a fourth reported having unprotected sex out of fear of police harassment.
As long as there are still jurisdictions that punish people for carrying condoms, our country has both a public health and a human rights problem on its hands. Prostitution is not a practice that’s going to go away anytime soon, and simply targeting those who are carrying condoms is not a step in the right direction. Instead, we should be focusing on catching the real criminals responsible for sex crimes.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area for the Law Offices of Andrew Weisberg. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.