N.Y. Advocates Want Condoms Out of Prostitute Cases

CDC National Prevention Information Network

NEW YORK:   “N.Y. Advocates Want Condoms Out of Prostitute Cases” 

(04.17.12):: Michael Virtanen

A Manhattan-based group that advocates for sex workers wants New York to be the first state to ban police officers from confiscating condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center said Tuesday that fear of police harassment and arrest has led some prostitutes to carry fewer or no condoms and have unprotected sex.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) has sponsored a bill to ban condoms as evidence. “We are not endorsing prostitution,” she said. “It is simply related to the fact that over 100,000 people right now are infected with HIV and AIDS in New York City.”

Although New York City health officials have given out 192 million free condoms since 2007, health department spokesperson Alexandra Waldhorn said the city opposes the pending legislation.

Kate Hogan, a prosecutor, said giving up supporting evidence would be giving pimps and sex traffickers “a lot of leeway we don’t want to give them.”

Surveys of sex workers were done in 2010 and 2011 by the city and the PROS Network, a coalition of workers and advocates. The network survey included 35 sex trade workers; of those, 15 said police had taken or destroyed their condoms with only five arrests. Six said they had sex later, and only half of them used a condom. Of 63 people in the city survey, 36 said their condoms were taken and 26 said they were arrested.

Human Rights Watch researchers Kathleen Todrys and Megan McLemore said preliminary results from their study of sex workers in New York City and other cities raise similar concerns. McLemore said that after San Francisco supervisors directed police to stop confiscating condoms in 1996, officers instead began photographing the condoms to use as evidence.