Despite the fact that condoms are widely held as essential tools in HIV and STI prevention – as well as being a very effective non-prescription method of birth control – just carrying condoms could get you arrested.
That’s right: As we’ve covered before, in New York and other places in the United States, condoms are routinely used by the police as evidence that the folks they are stopping are engaging in prostitution. If this seems impossibly nonsensical to you, it’s because it makes no sense, but unfortunately for everyone common sense is not the main driver of public policy.
As with most policing, the seizure of condoms as evidence of prostitution affects some populations more than others. This kind of criminalization in particular disproportionately affects queer and trans folks of color, and women of color more generally. LGBTQ people of color are targeted and profiled by the police for all prostitution-related offenses – regardless of whether they are trading sex – meaning that carrying protection leaves them vulnerable to arrest.
This policy is, of course, a public health disaster. Folks who are just looking to protect themselves, who are trying to make healthy decisions about their sexual lives, or use condoms as their primary method of birth control, actually become targets for criminalization. And the same populations being targeted by the current policy are facing some of the highest rates of HIV infection, unwanted pregnancy, and lack of access to other reproductive health care and pregnancy prevention options. A policy that targets people for carrying condoms provides an obvious disincentive to doing so. While on the one hand, New York is using tax payer dollars to distribute condoms free of charge, on the other it is arresting people that the police sees fit to target as sex workers for carrying them.
While the NYPD’s recent announcement that it will stop confiscating condoms as arrest evidence in some prostitution-related cases was a welcome step in the right direction, the policy did not extend to all prostitution-related cases. In the announcement, the NYPD signaled that they would still collect condoms as evidence of trafficking, promoting, patronizing and permitting offenses, leaving open a huge loophole. In order to protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers, a comprehensive ban on the use of condoms in any prostitution-related charges as evidence across New York State is essential.
Right now, there is a bill in the New York State assembly that would do that very thing. If you live in New York, there’s a couple of things that you can do to help get it passed. You can call Speaker Sheldon Silver at 518-455-3791 to ask him to put A. 2736 to a vote, and call your representative (you can find them here) to make sure that they vote in favor of it.
If you care about public health, reproductive justice, sex workers, LGBTQ liberation, racial justice – to just name a few – then this bill should be important to you. Let’s get a comprehensive ban on condoms as evidence of prostitution in New York once and for all.
Verónica is a queer immigrant activist, artist, and rabble rouser.