- The Issue
- Success and Continued Work
- How to Take Action
- COMICS: Stories of Condom Confiscation and Police Harassment
- VIDEO: Advocating in Albany: No Condoms As Evidence
- The Evidence
- Related Legislation
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. We applaud the New York State Assembly for passing A2736 and ask that the New York Senate will pass their bill S1379, so that the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution related offenses will be banned in the state of New York.
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.
As well as A2736 being passed by the NY Assembly this legislative session two New York District Attorneys, Kathleen Rice of Nassau County and Charles Hynes of King County, established new policies in their respective counties to stop their prosecutors from using condoms as evidence. “We need to put public health above the very little value of using condoms for prosecuting prostitution and trafficking,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. DA Hynes also sent a letter encouraging Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to institute similar policy in the NYPD, but the police continue to defend the use of the practice.
For the bill to become law the Senate version, S1379, must also be passed. If this does not happen in 2013 (the Senate would need to schedule a special session), the bill will need to be passed in both legislative bodies again during the next legislative session, which starts in January 2014. But we are emboldened by our victory in the Assembly and with the two District Attorneys and plan on keeping up the incredible momentum that has been built around passing the No Condoms as Evidence Bill. We are also taking our experiences to the Desiree Alliance Conference to share with others how to form coalitions around this issue to help and inspire other sex workers and advocates to fight to end the practice in their own regions.
If you live in the state of New York (including if you go to school in New York or live in a shelter), here’s what you can do:
- Fill out your address here and we will send postcards in your name to your State Senator and Assembly Member, the people who represent you in New York State government. Snail mail is MUCH more effective at getting the attention of elected officials than an internet petition, and the postcards are cool as hell, too – they feature the art from the below slideshow.
- Find out who your Senator and Assembly Member are, call your representatives, and ask them to support bill S1379/A2736. Phones are scary, its true – need help figuring out what to say or want to know what your reps’ histories with the bill are? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you out.
- Tell your people IRL and on the internet about this campaign. We’re tweeting with the hashtag #nycondom and generally we’re trying to get people not to just say, “whoa that’s messed up” but to speak up about it to their elected representatives.
If you live outside of the state of New York:
- Tell your people IRL and on the internet about this campaign. We’re tweeting with the hashtag #nycondom and generally we’re trying to get people not to just say, “whoa that’s messed up” but to speak up about it to their elected representatives. So, please share this info with anyone you know who lives in New York State.
- Please don’t fill out the address form to send a postcard to elected officials in NY. Many laws that impact people in the sex trades or people profiled as being in the sex trades are criminal codes, which are state-level laws. It sounds harsh, but seriously, elected officials in New York don’t care about what people from other states or countries think about laws here, they only care about what their constituents think.
- The use of condoms as evidence of prostitution and the profiling of people of color, trans women, and gender non-conforming people are widespread issues. Check out the documentation of this issue around the U.S. and around the world. Talk to sex workers, as well as harm reduction and social service providers in your area. If this is an issue locally, think about how you might launch a campaign to change it. Start by familiarizing yourself with the local laws and the people you will need to win over to make change.
Fill out your address here and we will send two of the above postcards in your name to your State Senator and Assembly Member, the people who represent you in New York State government. The postcards ask your reps to support bill S1379/A2736, because no one should have to choose between safer sex and arrest. Snail mail is MUCH more effective at getting the attention of elected officials than an internet petition, and we’re pretty sure these postcards will be memorable.
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 (323): 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)
The Community Safety Act, legislation that RedUP endorses, is a landmark police reform legislative package that currently consists of four bills aimed at ending discriminatory policing and bringing real accountability to the NYPD. New Yorkers want to live in a safe city where police officers treat all residents equally and respectfully, and are not above the law. These four bills have been introduced in the City Council, a hearing was held on the full package in October 2012, and are now awaiting a final hearing and vote. Learn more about the Community Safety Act and Communities United for Police Reform organizing.