In New York state, police and prosecutors can use the fact that a person is carrying condoms to prove that they are engaging in prostitution-related offenses. We, at Access to Condoms, believe this policy is a discriminatory one – police typically stop trans women, gender non-conforming people and people who are perceived to be gay. Also targeted are people of color and people who they perceive as dressing or acting like they are selling sex by wearing outfits the police deem as being lewd or by standing or walking in public places.
The practice of condoms as evidence negatively impacts indoor sex workers as well, and furthermore has the potential effect of encouraging traffickers to withhold condoms from their victims, further harming the very individuals anti-trafficking laws seek to protect. Banning the use of condoms as evidence is not a matter of condoning the sex trade – it is a common sense measure to ensure that people can protect themselves and each other from STIs, including HIV, as well as unwanted pregnancies.
New York State Bill S5638/A7671, or ‘End the Criminalization of Condoms Act’, would stop police and prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. People who are or are profiled as involved in the sex trades report that they are more likely to be arrested if they carry condoms. Police officers regularly confiscate condoms from people they allege are engaged in prostitution to justify arrests or to use as evidence against them at trial.
As a result, people are hesitant to carry condoms to protect themselves and others, for fear that it will lead to arrest or be held against them in court. Sound public health policy would encourage condom use by eliminating the fear that carrying a condom will be used against you or anyone else by police or in a court of law. In a state with a major free condom program and in a city with the only municipally-branded condom in the world, it is shameful that the Department of Health gives away condoms only for the New York Police Department to confiscate them from people.
No one should be forced to choose between safer sex and arrest, regardless of whether the person is engaged in sex work or profiled as such.