“I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t. I don’t want to get any disease but I do want to make my money… Why do they take your condoms, do they want us to die, do they want us to get something?”
– New York-based Sex Worker (Public Health Crisis: The Impact of Using Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in New York City, April 2012 Report).
It may have taken over ten years, but a New York State Assembly bill to prohibit condoms as evidence in prostitution cases is finally catching the attention of District Attorneys and the New York State legislature. Last week, New York State Assembly and Council Members, the Kings County (Brooklyn) and Nassau County District Attorney’s office, along with human rights groups and legal advocates – Red Umbrella Project, Human Rights Watch, the Sex Workers Project, Make the Road New York, Streetwise and Safe, and the New York Civil Liberties Union- gathered on the steps of New York City Hall for the “No Condoms As Evidence” press rally. Organized by the No Condoms as Evidence Coalition, these groups gathered to urge the passage of NY State bill S1379/A2736, also known as the No Condoms as Evidence bill. This is an inclusive bill that would prevent prosecutors from introducing condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, including cases involving victims of trafficking. New York has a history of police confiscating condoms from people perceived to be engaged in sex work, particularly targeting transgender and gender non-conforming persons.
The Urban Justice Center and the PROS Network released a report in April 2012 on the impact of using condoms as evidence finding that over 50 percent of the NY-based respondents interviewed had condoms confiscated based on police profiling them as a sex worker. Seventy-five percent of transgender women and gender non-conforming people interviewed reported that they did not carry condoms on them for fear of being arrested by the police.
Seeing District Attorneys and sex workers’ rights groups together addressing sex workers’ right to carry condoms without the fear of being arrested demonstrated important progress for sex workers and allies. This, of course, does not mean that all D.A.s are fully committed to ending the use of condoms as evidence. A recent New York Times article revealed that some of the City’s D.A.s stated that they would still continue to allow condoms as evidence of human trafficking, despite adopting a policy that would not allow condoms in prostitution cases.
The press rally also spotlighted the problem of police profiling of members of the LGBTQ community—especially transgender women—as sex workers. Queens Councilmember, Jimmy Van Bramer spoke on the City Hall steps stating, “No assumptions should ever be made about anyone who carries condoms.” Yhatzine LaFountain, a member of immigrant rights group, Make the Road New York stated, “I have experienced firsthand how the police profile transgender women like me, confiscate our condoms and arrest us for walking the street as ‘trans’… Condoms are supposed to protect us, not turn us into criminals.”
Supporters of the bill are working to have the bill passed by the NY State Assembly by the end of the June session.
Guest blogger Kat Thomas attended the June 6, 2013 rally and press conference on the steps of NYC Hall organized by the No Condoms as Evidence Coalition and provided the Best Practices Policy Project with the above post.