Since 2009, Red Umbrella Project members have been working to oppose the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. We’ve co-organized lobby days in Albany, mailed a thousand postcards to state legislators, met with elected officials, who passed Senate Bill S1379 in the State Assembly in 2013, and met with Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s staff.
NYPD Bans Use of Condoms as Evidence in Some Prostitution Arrests, People in the Sex Trades Respond
May 12, 2014 Brooklyn, NY – Commissioner Bill Bratton announced that the NYPD would ban officers from collecting condoms as evidence of prostitution in some prostitution-related arrests. Specifically, confiscation of condoms as evidence would be barred in arrests for prostitution, prostitution in a school zone, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. This policy represents a welcome and important step in the direction of protecting the public health and reproductive rights of New Yorkers. But the policy does not go far enough, and it creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through: police can still continue to use the possession of condoms to justify an arrest, confiscate condoms from sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking as “investigatory evidence” where promoting or trafficking is suspected, and confiscate condoms as evidence in promoting and trafficking cases.
“Sex workers have been at the front of the fight in this campaign since 2009,” said Audacia Ray, founder and executive director of the peer-led group Red Umbrella Project. “We are excited that the NYPD has finally responded to our concerns, though it is an imperfect solution. We will continue to fight for justice and to ensure that the experiences of people in the sex trades are centered in this work.”
Emma Caterine, a former community organizer at the Red Umbrella Project, stated, “We are concerned that the continued use of condoms as evidence in trafficking cases will have the effect of harming, not helping people who are in those exploitative situations.”
Red Umbrella Project looks forward to the continued expansion of this policy so that no one is denied access to condoms because of who they are.
- The Issue
- How to Take Action
- COMICS: Stories of Condom Confiscation and Police Harassment
- VIDEO: Advocating in Albany: No Condoms As Evidence
- The Evidence
When police stop and frisk people and find that they are carrying condoms, the officers will often confiscate or destroy the condoms. Currently, police and prosecutors in New York State can use the possession of condoms as evidence that people are engaging in the crimes of prostitution (PL 230.00) and loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense (PL 240.37). 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.
The practice of condoms being used as evidence is a discriminatory one that is used as part of larger stop and frisk profiling practices. The use of condoms as evidence is very much a gendered version of stop and frisk – police typically stop trans and cis women, gender non-conforming people and people (including trans and cis men) 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, standing or walking in public places, and talking with passers-by. 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.
If you live in New York City, contact RedUP’s Jenna Torres at Jenna@redumbrellaproject.org or call 347-927-3867 to find out how you can get involved.
Take a look at our comics featuring true stories about condom confiscation here.
The following reports document the issue of condoms as evidence not just in New York, but in cities around the United States and in other parts of the world.
- Public Health Crisis: The Impact of Using Condoms as Evidence of Prositution in New York City (1122): Report by the PROS Network, released April 2012, New York City (link is to download 74 page PDF)
- Transgressive Policing: Police Abuse of LGBTQ Communities of Color in Jackson Heights, by Make the Road NY, October 2012 (link is to 33 page PDF)
- Sex Workers At Risk: Condoms as Evidence in Four U.S. Cities – New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, by Human Rights Watch, Jul 2012 (link is to info page on HRW website, with links to download)
- Criminalizing Condoms: How Policing Practices Put Sex Workers and HIV Services at Risk in Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Zimbabwe, by Open Society Foundation, July 2012 (link is to info page on OSF website, with link to download the report)