Huge news yesterday — the New York Police Department announced that they will end the absurd and nonsensical practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution:
For decades, police in New York and elsewhere had confiscated condoms from sex work suspects ostensibly for them to be used as evidence in criminal trials, even though the overwhelming majority of prostitution cases never go to trial.
“A policy that inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and dangerous,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday at an unrelated event in Queens. “And there are a number of ways you can go about putting together evidence” without condoms, he said.
As we’ve covered before, the practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution distinctly affects LGBTQ people of color, who are often targeted and profiled by police for sex work convictions, regardless of whether they are actually sex workers. By virtually criminalizing the carrying of condoms for LGBTQ folks of color, this policy has served as an incentive for folks – sex workers or not – to not carry condoms, a pretty obvious public health disaster.
Despite this being a positive development, the NYPD did not ban the practice of using condoms as evidence in sex trafficking or promotion of prostitution cases, leaving youth in particular vulnerable:
Civil rights groups and advocates for sex workers and gay, lesbian and transgender young people commended the department’s new policy, but want a ban on the use of condoms as evidence in sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution cases too. They argue that even under the new policy police may continue to seize condoms from sex workers and teen runaways under the pretense of investigating pimps and traffickers, and that traffickers could punish sex workers who carry condoms because they fear they’ll be used against them
“This is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough and creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through,” said Andrea Ritchie, a coordinator at Streetwise and Safe, a New York City-based group that has long opposed the department’s previous policy. “We will be monitoring the NYPD carefully to see how they implement this policy.
This definitely is a reason to celebrate, but there is obviously still a long way to go.
Verónica is an immigrant queer writer, activist, and artist.