In a partial, but significant victory for the sex worker groups that have been advocating on the issue for years, the New York Police Department announced on Monday that they would end its practice of treating condoms as evidence of prostitution in some, but not all, cases.
Police commissioner Bratton announced the new policy barringconfiscation of condoms as evidence for arrest for ‘prostitution, prostitution in a school zone, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution’. Mayor de Blasio also said, in a statement, that the police department had reviewed the evidence and come to the conclusion that: “A policy that actually inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and is dangerous”.
However, in cases where trafficking or ‘promoting prostitution’ is suspected, police can still use the possession of condoms to justify an arrest and confiscate condoms. A loophole that the Access to Condoms Coalition-- whose executive committee includes NSWP members Red Umbrella Projectand Sex Workers Outreach Project – NYC-- state is “big enough to drive a truck through.”
The Access to Condoms Coalition said in a statement:
“As long as possession or presence of condoms on the premises of a business can be used as evidence of intent to engage in any prostitution-related offense, including over thirteen more serious New York Penal Law offenses and civil proceedings not covered by this policy, we are concerned that cops will continue to take them out of the hands of people who are the most vulnerable to exploitation - youth and trafficking victims. We are also concerned that the people who are exploiting them will deny access to condoms in the hopes of avoiding prosecution, and that businesses and individuals will be discouraged from carrying and distributing them. Also, we are concerned that under this policy, police can still use the fact that a sex worker has condoms in their possession as a basis for arrest for prostitution, even if they don’t physically voucher them as evidence. This continues to send a message that it is unsafe to carry condoms”.
The coalition had just last week travelled to the state capital, Albany, to deliver a “teach-in” to educate lawmakers on the issue and to discuss legislation to end the practice. The teach-in included testimony from individuals directly impacted by the practice – disproportionately trans people of color and gender non-conforming youth.
“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 organiser 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.”