Sex Workers at Risk: The Use of Condoms as Evidence in Four US Cities

Human Rights Watch. (July, 2012) [public health, HIV, United States]

From the Summary:

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 300 persons for this report, which focuses on police use of condoms as evidence to enforce prostitution and sex trafficking laws, as part of an investigation into barriers to effective HIV prevention for sex workers in the four cities covered by this report. Those interviewed included nearly 200 sex workers and former sex workers as well as outreach workers, advocates, lawyers, police officers, district attorneys, and public health officials. In New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles our investigation focused on complaints of police using condoms as evidence while targeting sex workers on the street. In San Francisco, condoms were used as evidence for street enforcement to some extent, with police photographing rather than confiscating condoms, in what appeared to be a dubious nod to public health concerns. In San Francisco, much of the anti-prostitution enforcement using condoms as evidence targeted women working in businesses such as erotic dance clubs, massage businesses, and a nightclub with transgender clientele.

Police use of condoms as evidence of prostitution has the same effect everywhere: despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

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