Skip to content
Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Condom conundrum: New York sex workers said to be avoiding condoms as they’re used more frequently as evidence of prostitution

Half the sex workers in a study [compiled with Make the Road New York] said they did not carry the safeties, which the city actually distributes to combat disease, out of fear of arrest.

So much for “Better safe than sorry.”

Carrying condoms has resulted in arrest for a growing number of women in New York, Vice magazine reported Tuesday.

Experts say the issue may be contributing to a public health crisis in which sex workers are beginning to use condoms less frequently.

In the incident cited by Vice, a New York woman was arrested and charged with “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” after an officer found a condom in her purse.

The unnamed woman was wearing jean shorts and a “tight” shirt and had been standing outdoors for about 30 minutes. After she had a conversation with a “passing man,” an officer searched her bag, where he found a condom and $1.25 and arrested her, according to Vice.

While condoms themselves are not illegal, police in many cities are allegedly using them as the basis for evidence of prostitution and arrest, a trend that public health experts say is happening more often as police continue to crack down on the time-old trade.

“Despite the fact that most prostitution cases do not go to trial, condoms are frequently vouchered and cited in criminal court complaints and supporting depositions as arrest evidence in prostitution-related cases,” the authors of a prominent 2012 study conducted by sex worker advocate the PROS Network wrote.

The study, “Public Health Crisis: the Impact of Using Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in New York City,” goes on to say that “these policies and practices may have a dangerous impact on safer sex practices in general.”

Nearly half the participants in the study who were involved in the sex trade said they had not carried condoms “out of fear that it may get them in trouble with the police or lead to their arrest,” PROS sociologists wrote.

“For all too many people in the sex trade, the importance of safe sex is outweighed by the importance of avoiding police harassment, humiliation, sexual and physical abuse, and arrest, as well as the potential indirect consequences of arrest,” the study stated.

New York City itself hands out more than 30 million condoms each year at clinics, health fairs and other centers through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. But the distribution is nothing short of ironic, given that some key communities are now afraid to carry them.

“Unfortunately, I can only carry one condom,” a New York sex worker told Human Rights Watch as part of the group’s 2012 study “Sex Workers at Risk.”

“I can’t carry more, because if I have bad luck and the police catch me, they could put me in jail because police can use them as proof.”

According to New York penal code, a person may be charged with prostitution if he or she “engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.” Consequently, an arresting officer usually has to witness the person make an offer.

But for a handful of other less-serious prostitution-related offenses, including “loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense,” the evidence required for an arrest or charge is more circumstantial.

State lawmakers have long fought to end the presence of condoms as evidence in criminal prostitution trials. Bills to curb use of contraception as evidence were introduced in New York state as early as 1999. But the bill has never passed the state legislature. It was most recently voted down in 2012.

To view the article & video, click here.