Access to Condoms in New York

Since 2009, Red Umbrella Project members have been working to raise awareness and do advocacy around the issue of condoms being used as evidence of prostitution related offenses. We’ve co-organized lobby days in Albany twice, we’ve mailed a thousand postcards to state legislators, we’ve met with elected officials, passed the bill in the State Assembly in 2013, and a month ago we did an afternoon call-in to the Mayor’s office, which landed us an in-person meeting with the Mayor’s staff.

NYPD Bans Use of Condoms as Evidence in Some Prostitution Arrests, People in the Sex Trades Respond

Contact: Audacia Ray – 347-927-3867   audaciaray@redumbrellaproject.org

invisible-condomMay 12, 2014 Brooklyn, NY – People in the sex trades and LGBTQ people who are profiled as trading sex responded today to the NYPD’s announcement that it would ban officers from collecting condoms as evidence of prostitution in some prostitution-related arrests. The policy announced by Commissioner Bratton today barring confiscation of condoms as arrest evidence in prostitution, prostitution in a school zone, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution cases represents a welcome and important step in the direction of protecting the public health and reproductive rights of New Yorkers. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough, and 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 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, community organizer at the Red Umbrella Project, says that, “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.

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The Issue

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, 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.

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How to Take Action

 If you live in New York City, contact RedUP’s Community Organizer Emma Caterine at emma@redumbrellaproject.org or by calling 347-927-3867 to find out how you can get involved.

Stories of Condom Confiscation and Police Harassment

Take a look at our comics featuring true stories about condom confiscation here.

 

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Advocating in Albany: No Condoms As Evidence

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The Evidence

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.

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