Carrying condoms could get you arrested.

Jaclyn Friedman has a good post up at Amplify about an initiative in D.C. that could literally get you arrested for prostitution charges if you’re caught carrying three or more condoms with you. In short, D.C. police are using their “Prostitution Free Zone” law to go as far as arresting women for carrying condoms in their purse. This is happening in New and San Francisco as well. She says:

Three. Three condoms. If you think there’s a chance you’re getting laid, and you’re sleeping with someone who has a penis, why would you ever pack fewer than three condoms? What if one rips when you take it out of the package? What if you want to do it (*GASP*) twice? Three condoms is not a lot of condoms, people. IMHO, it’s the bare minimum. I once used over a dozen in a particularly memorable weekend. And I still wasn’t a sex worker.

And what if I was? As has been pointed out elsewhere, all this law (and laws like it in NYC and San Francisco) are doing is encouraging sex workers to not carry condoms. You know what that’s going to do? It’s not going to reduce sex trafficking. It’s not going to improve the lives or working conditions of sex workers. It’s not going to lock up abusers or pimps. It’s going to spread disease. It’s going to increase the spread of STIs (including HIV) among sex workers and their clients. And those clients will spread it even further out into the general population. And those of us who aren’t sex workers but don’t feel like risking arrest en route to a hot date? Some of us are going to carry fewer condoms and catch and spread more disease, too. And those of us who carry lots of condoms so we can distribute them and help other people stay safe? Well, we’re obviously a criminal element, aren’t we?

This attempt at a “Prostitution Free Zone” is dangerous for sex workers in too many ways. Aziza Ahmed and Brook Kelly at RH Reality Check point out that not only will it merely convince sex workers they shouldn’t carry condoms, but pushes them out of safer, more commercial neighborhoods and into unsafe areas where they’re more vulnerable to harassment and assault. Community poster Nazza also offers some thoughts, who directs us to the original study on how damaging this law actually is.

The very idea that anyone could think forcing sex workers and those who aren’t to choose between being arrested and being sexually safe is somehow a benefit to society just confounds me.

Join the Conversation

  • Natasha

    “Three condoms is not a lot of condoms, people. IMHO, it’s the bare minimum. I once used over a dozen in a particularly memorable weekend. And I still wasn’t a sex worker.”
    Girl, I went through a whole BOX one weekend.
    This whole thing is so ridiculous. I read it last night on Perez Hilton, of all places, and was appalled, to say the least.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I think it is the path of least resistance for them. It sounds good until examined and it caters to the public’s desire to not have to be bothered viewing prostitutes on their way to work or back and forth.
    It’s just so draconian and does nothing to really address the matters at hand. It’s kind of like transplanting an issue and moving it elsewhere. One can only keep passing the buck long enough until the issue cries out for some firm resolution somewhere.

  • that girl

    Where is the text of this law? I keep following the backlinks, but all I get is links to other blogs.

  • Nicole

    Wow. This is *not cool*. Seriously, this is fucked up.

  • GalFawkes

    Not that this changes how horrible the law is, but it’s also worth pointing out, the cops aren’t going to arrest a woman for walking out of a CVS with a big box of condoms she just bought or something. Which brings me to a suggestion for protesting, which is for every woman who’s not actually a sex worker to carry lots and lots of condoms and try to make it obvious that she’s carrying condoms.
    Also, if it’s prostitution that the authorities want to crack down on, why not target clients? Why not go for the demand side?

  • Phenicks

    I read the DC code and nowhere in it makes mention of having 3 condoms on your person as proof of prostitution. It DID however mention things like standing on a street approaching people you don’t know and approaching stopped cars in what appears to be like solicitation for sex.
    Also Johns get arrested, fined and many have to do classes or community service afterward. Everyone involved is punished.
    In DC you could literally go down certain streets and see IN PLAIN VIEW sex work go down and you’re probably just picking up your kid from daycare. So this isn’t some make believe problem they are addressing though I agree they are going about this all wrong.

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    it’s also worth pointing out, the cops aren’t going to arrest a woman for walking out of a CVS with a big box of condoms she just bought or something
    Unless, of course, she looks like that particular cop’s stereotype of a prostitute. Or he feels like it.

  • marissafromboston

    wait… what exactly is the “problem they are addressing?” is it sex work happening in the streets, “in plain view,” around children? or is it that sex work is happening in general? because im not sure all of us would agree that sex work is inherently bad, even if the particular picture you are painting certainly has its problems.
    and yes, johns get caught sometimes, but they are often given a fine, a mere slap on the wrist, while the sex worker gets jail time. it takes two to tango, so why dont they get the same sentence?

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    I’m pretty sure California, at least, has an equal (gender) rights clause in its constitution, meaning San Francisco can’t have a law prohibiting women from carrying more than three condoms. But it’s probably only enforced against women, assuming it’s actually enforced in the first place and not just used as blackmail.

  • voluptuouspanic

    I encourage folks to read the Different Avenues report and a report called “Revolving Doors” by the Sex Workers Project in New York about the policing of street-based sex workers. This is hardly the newest or most unique ways sex workers are harassed by the police. “Reasonable cause” is very often just “looking like a prostitute”.
    Like most prostitution laws, this is going to disproportionately affect poor (cis and trans) women of color.

  • Michelle

    How will they know how many condoms you carry? Will they do random searches, if so how will they determine whom to search? Profiling? Also, isn’t illegal to search someone without cause?

  • The Boggart

    Exactly – though the flip side of this reveals another dangerous and problematic aspect of this law.
    I’m not sure how to explain it, but some women believe that only “sluts” and “bad girls” plan ahead for the possibility that sex may happen. They feel ashamed about concretely acknowledging their sex life; not just by making the proactive decision to carry condoms, but of the undeniable “evidence” this creates.
    I’m worried that this law will worsen this particular stigma, fuelling yet more paradoxical slut-shaming and unsafe sex.

  • Phenicks

    1) Public nudity has long been a crime. I do nmot wish to see random penis and vaginas on my commute nor should I have to when I am traveling well lit streets.
    2) My son and niece don’t need to see some guy shoving his penis down a prostitue’s throat.
    3) Sex work isn’t something you do in front of the general public for several reasons including teh fact that it involves bodily fluid. I’d be just as offended if someone left a hospital to perform a surgery outside getting blood everywhere as I am about vaginal fluid and semen shooting all over the place. Children shouldn’t have to wear body-sized condoms to play outside and adults shouldn’t have to wear body sized condoms to BE outside.
    I could care less about a woman or man deciding to buy or sell sex, thats her business but guess what- it should NOT be carried out in plain view. You don’t have a right to show your genitals to people who don’t want to see it, thats called sexual harrassment.

  • Toongrrl

    What do the Police want?
    STDs and Pregnancies??

  • queerhummingbird

    here’s what i found out concerning the “law” in question. so it’s not actually a law but a law enforcement practice (please feel free to correct me but i followed the links and this is what i found out):
    – “In the process of lowering the standards for arrest, the health of sex workers is placed in grave danger by procedures used by the D.C. police to determine who is a sex worker. Police confiscation of safer sex tools like condoms for use as evidence of intent to engage in prostitution is not uncommon. Anecdotal evidence suggests that having three or more condoms is considered a proxy for being a sex worker. Practices like these that discourage the procurement and use of condoms by sex workers, undermine the efforts of non-profit groups who do outreach with sex workers, and is an outrageous policy in a city that has the highest HIV rates in the country.” (
    – and with the Prostitution Free Zones DC has now, all an officer has to do is suspect you of prostitution (or prostitution related activity) and you can be arrested, imprisons and/or fined. (,a,1238,q,560843.asp)

  • that girl

    I am concerned about the accuracy of this post. I looked at the DC code and it doesn’t mention condoms anywhere. All of the blogs are linked only to each other. Where did this originate?

  • Hypatia

    I’m at school, and apparently I can’t click on the link to the article at amplify because “The Websense category “Sex Education” is filtered.” Wow…

  • Vanessa

    The DC code doesn’t include specifics about condoms but the law has led to police taking measures upon themselves to arrest women under suspicion because they have condoms. More info in this report I linked to above.

  • analog

    Here is a link to DC police’s website describing the
    “Prostitution Free Zone.”
    The law states that, “it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses within the boundaries of the Prostitution Free Zone.”
    I don’t get it. Prostitution is illegal, therefore isn’t it ALWAYS illegal for two people to “congregate to engage in prostitution?” No matter when or where? So what is the point of this law? Don’t the police already have the ability to arrest people for this conduct? And the same for the poster above who is concerned about public nudity or visible sex acts. These things are ALREADY illegal. So why do the police need this new thing?
    This is just an excuse to give the police yet more power and allows them to punish people for who they are rather than for what they have done. An officer can order someone who is a suspected potential prostitute to leave a given geographic area, or face arrest. It is just infuriating that this violation of our civil liberties is tolerated in an ostensibly free society.

  • saresails

    This sounds so much like the ‘5 pieces of women’s clothing’ rule of the 20th century.
    Vomit. This is just so wrong.

  • paperispatient

    Well, you know, you might get accurate information about contraception and feel more empowered to make decisions about your body and your health. And school is not the place for that! ;)

  • marissafromboston

    I agree with you about it not happening in public. Never said or implied that I didn’t. I didn’t know of you were againt sex work in general or just the fact that it goes on in the streets. (Being against sex work is a valid opinion, if one happens to have that view, but I think it’s something worth discussing.)

  • analog

    Absolutely profiling. The laws establishing “prostitution free zones” lower the standards of probable cause that police have to meet to search someone. Women (and theoretically men, but this will certainly only be used to harass women) who “appear” to be engaging in prostitution or who appear to “BE PLANNING to engage in prostitution” (emphasis mine) can be searched and detained. As can anyone who a “reliable source” says is a prostitute. Or anyone who is “a known participant in prostitution or prostitution related activities.”
    So basically anyone the police want to harass. And invariably that will be poor women, women of color, and trans women.