Traditionally, New York State police officers have confiscated condoms from suspected sex workers and prosecutors later used them as evidence in court to help find those individuals guilty of sex crimes. However, New York lawmakers are now proposing a bill that will prevent condoms from being used as evidence in the prosecution of prostitution cases.
The NYPD does not agree with the new legislation because they believe it will hurt their cases; however, they are currently reviewing the bill as well as its condom policy. If the new bill passes, New York will become the first state nationwide to prevent condoms from being used as evidence in court.
New York City spends more than a million dollars per year on condoms that they then distribute free of charge to the public in an effort to keep down the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. However, when police officers are allowed to confiscate those condoms and use them as evidence in court, it greatly undermines the state’s health initiatives. Therefore, advocates for sex workers are hopeful the bill passes in New York because it will prevent condoms from being used as evidence in prostitution cases.
A 2010 study of more than 60 New York City sex workers showed that more than had had their condoms confiscated by the police. Nearly one third of them admitted to not carrying condoms anymore because they knew they could be used against them.
Another study conducted in 2012 by the Human Rights Watch group surveyed 197 sex workers across Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. They found that many of those sex workers also did not carry condoms for protection, and those who did only carried a few because they were afraid of the police.
One woman in Los Angeles admitted to using a plastic bag because she did not want to be caught with a condom. Other sex workers said police officers intimidate them and ask them why they are carrying condoms. If they were found to have more than two or three condoms in their possession, the police officers would confiscate them and threaten to arrest them.
“People need condoms,” says J. Stark who works with a Bronx healthcare organization, to keep down instances of sexually transmitted disease, such as AIDS. However, he said he has personally witnessed police officers searching prostitutes, and when they find their condoms, they confiscate them.
Another advocate of sex workers in Washington, Darby Hickey brings up a valid point, which is condoms do not tell police officers that anything is happening with an individual. He went on to say it is more about perception, how people in the sex trade are treated by society, and how some people are presumed as being involved in the trade simply based on how they look whether they actually are or not.
Last year, the New York legislation passed in the assembly and advocates of sex workers are hopeful the Senate will be in favor of the bill when it reconvenes. If the bill passes in New York, police officers and prosecutors will no longer be able to use condoms as evidence when trying prostitution cases.
By Donna W. Martin