State lawmakers should approve a bill that would bar the practice of confiscating condoms as evidence against those suspected of prostitution. The current policy is a double-edged sword that undermines both the state’s and New York City’s public health agendas.
Sex worker advocacy organizations have long called for police officers to stop confiscating condoms from women and men who work as prostitutes. Studies show that police confiscate prostitutes’ condoms even when no arrests are made. And in cases where there are arrests, officers often tell suspects that carrying condoms is the reason for the action. Such practice creates confusion among prostitutes, who, in turn, stop carrying condoms out of fear of police action.
Contrary to misperception, the legislative proposal –sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark-would not affect the ability of cops to use condoms as evidence in sex trade and sexual assault crimes.
New York City, which is the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, has put in place aggressive measures to stop the spread of STDs. These include the mass distribution of free NYC-branded condoms (3 million per month); a smartphone app to locate venues that distribute these free condoms; and a sex education curriculum in public schools that teaches young people how important it is to practice safe sex.
These initiatives are a sensible and responsible way to tackle a serious public health issue. But shooting a hole into this by sending a message that carrying a condom is a crime is backwards and unsafe.
Prostitution is illegal in New York. But that hasn’t stopped the world’s oldest profession. It’s time to be real and safe. Albany lawmakers must pass the bill and put an end to a practice that is more risky than rewarding.