Condom policing in New York

These days, there’s a fairly broad consensus– among public health advocates,  educators, parents, the media, and the porn industry– that condoms are GOOD. Whether one is penis-possessing or just along for the ride, most of us have been told to “wrap it up” since before we were performing acts that required us to do so. So why in the world do New York City police think it’s OK to confiscate condoms from some people — in particular, women suspected of prostitution — and actually use them as evidence against them in court?

As this article explains:

“Last year, New York City health workers gave out 37.2 million condoms. That works out to an average of 70 condoms every minute of the year. The city got into mass-scale condom distribution to help prevent the spread of debilitating and deadly diseases…On the other hand, the condoms are also used to mark people for arrest on prostitution charges.”

Brilliant and badass activist and colleague Audacia Ray has a strong quote in the piece highlighting the hypocrisy of this policy. “They need to make up their mind, whether the health department wants condoms to be used to protect people, or the Police Department wants to use it to arrest…I know that prostitution is illegal and the district attorney does not want to make it any easier for people to do it, but it’s really problematic for public health. At times the condoms are being destroyed in front of people.”

This subsequent NYT editorial seems to agree, flat out saying that “the city should instruct police not to seize condoms from women on the street. And the Legislature should bar the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.”

What the policy currently represents is government-sanctioned discrimination. In theory, city officials are working to promote health for all, but in practice they are placing criminalization and prosecution over the safety and health of some city residents who seem “suspicious” of exchanging sex acts for money. Regardless of your position on the criminalization of sex work (I am anti) I think we can all agree that this is bad practice. It also works to reinforce the notion that sex workers are somehow less than human, less deserving of basic health rights and protections, because of the work that they do. Suggesting that sex workers are less deserving of safe sex because of their criminality is bad public health practice and discriminatory, and it needs to stop.

A bill in the NY State Assembly would prohibits possession of condoms as evidence. According to the NYT piece, it is set to pass in the House but faces greater odds in the State Senate.We’ll keep you posted here- let’s do all we can to make sure New York State Assemblymen know that we are keeping our eyes on this one.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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