Target: Senators of the New York State Senate
Goal: Prevent New York Police from using condoms as evidence of prostitution.
In a city where the Department of Health hands out some three million city-issued condoms a month, it may be surprising to learn that police can use those very condoms as evidence of prostitution. Such is the case in New York, where the New York Police Department (NYPD) regularly arrests individuals for suspected involvement in soliciting sex using possession of a condom as the only evidence. While some have suggested that this is an attempt on the part of the NYPD to meet quotas, what is clear is the negative health impact that results from this behavior. Those who are most vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—i.e. those who would most benefit from protection—are afraid to carry condoms for fear of being arrested. Simply possessing a condom is not a crime, nor should it be evidence of criminal activity.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, the NYPD’s use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is retarding efforts to promote them as an effective contraceptive and method of STI transmission prevention. As such, “despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection … are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment.” Moreover, outreach workers and businesses have come to fear distributing condoms for the same reasons. In a vain attempt to prevent prostitution (or fill quotas, as the case may be), the NYPD is effectively endangering sex workers and their clients and facilitating the transmission of STIs. And it is not just sex workers who are being targeted.
In the state of New York, loitering for the purposes of prostitution is an arrestable offense. This type of arrest uses a great deal of contextual information to profile individuals who are deemed to be loitering. For instance, the time, place and appearance of an individual are all deciding factors. One of these factors police take into account is gender presentation. Profiling for gender presentation leads many in the transgender community who do not identify as sex workers to be harassed or arrested (if they are carrying condoms) because the police assumed they were attempting to solicit sex. This type of profiling is abusive, unhelpful and a complete waste of time and money. Fortunately, steps are being taken to put an end to the use of condoms as evidence.
Recently, bill S1379 was proposed to the New York State Senate. If passed, “possession of contraceptive devices would not be permitted in specified criminal or civil proceeding as evidence of prostitution.” For more than 10 years activists have tried to have similar legislation passed only to see it fail year after year. It is time to stand up and face facts: condoms protect individuals from STIs and are an excellent form of contraception—not evidence of a crime. Sign the petition below to show your support for the passage of bill S1379 and the end of the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.
Dear Senators of the New York State Senate,
The practice by members of the NYPD of arresting individuals for possession of condoms is ludicrous. Simply possessing a condom is not evidence of committing the crime of prostitution. The state of New York spends a great deal of money promoting and distributing condoms in an attempt to cut down on the rates of STI transmission. How then can one justify the NYPD’s use of these very same state-issued condoms as evidence of criminal activity? It is irrational and unconstructive.
Sex workers, while engaging in illicit behavior, are human beings and must be afforded the same rights and protections as anyone else. By using condoms as evidence of prostitution, the state is potentially increasing the rate of STI transmission, as workers do not use the condoms for fear of harassment and arrest. Please do not allow the social stigma attached to prostitution to prevent the passing of this bill. Please do the right thing and put an end to the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Kramchang via Flickr