NYPD officers are arresting people for carrying condoms
by Monica Cruz
Contradicting New York City’s huge attempt to promote safe sex among its inhabitants, a widely used NYPD practice is doing nothing to encourage the use of condoms. Being the first city to create its own condom, NYC has poured millions into funding the NYC Condom initiative in a citywide effort to promote protected sex. The city gave out 35.5 million free condoms to its citizens, even creating the free NYC Condom smart phone app which directs users to the nearest five free condom distribution centers. But as the city attempts to make it rain condoms in chic wrappers, the NYPD seems to be arresting those who carry them.
According to the New York Department of Criminal Justice Statistics, 4,054 arrests were made for prostitution-related reasons in 2011. Unsurprisingly, judges have thrown out prostitution cases using the “evidence” that the accused was carrying condoms. In January 2011, a case like this was brought to the Midtown Community Court. When the Assistant District Attorney attempted to use the possession of a single condom as evidence of prostitution, Judge Richard Weinberg stated that, “I find no probative value at all in finding a condom . . . In the age of AIDS and HIV, if people are sexually active at a certain age and they are not walking around with condoms, they are fools.” Sex workers are arguably the most susceptible population to giving and receiving sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, so why is the NYPD punishing them for protecting themselves and others?
One may think that the Department of Health would play a major role in ending this ridiculous practice, but so far it has only made one attempt to investigate this issue with a study conducted three years ago. In December of 2010, the Department of Health made the questionable decision of not releasing the results from a joint study to determine the public health impact of using condoms as a reason for arrest. The PROS (Providers of Resource Offering Services to sex workers) Network and the Sex Workers Project joined to pursue the study, redoing it in 2011. Human Rights Watch requested access to the results from the study and released them in April of 2012. Unsurprisingly, 57% of those studied had condoms confiscated by the police and about 45% said they have not carried condoms at least once because it can be used as basis for arrest. A pending bill in the New York State Legislature would take away the police’s ability to make arrests for prostitution on the basis of carrying condoms. First introduced in 1999 by state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, the bill has died in the legislature every year since. The release of the results of the study by the Department of Health has garnered a push for the bill, now called the “No Condoms as Evidence Bill.” If passed, sex workers will no longer be hesitant to carry condoms for fear of arrest.
Without a doubt, the NYPD’s ability to use condoms as the basis for arrest can only do harm to the people of New York. Apprehending prostitutes is in accordance to New York Sate law on sex work, but using condom possession as a shred of evidence against those suspected of prostitution is a ridiculous idea. This practice discourages prostitutes from carrying condoms, therefore encouraging the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS. Regardless of the illegality of prostitution, every person has the right to take the necessary precaution in protecting one’s own health. Though the city provides ample access to condoms, the right to use birth control is being blatantly threatened by the NYPD. If NYC hopes to continue leading the way for government-sponsored safe sex advocacy, eradicating a practice that discourages safe sex would be a very wise choice.