There is a global understanding that condoms are an essential harm reduction tool to protect the health and safety of people engaging in sexual contact. Despite this, condoms are regularly confiscated, destroyed and used as evidence that a person is engaging in prostitution across the globe. When condoms are regularly used as evidence, sex workers and people profiled as such stop carrying condoms for fear that they will lead to arrest, even when working. While some locations have banned the practice in police departments and district attorneys’ offices, it is still too common and puts sex workers at risk of HIV & STI transmission.
The state of California officially banned the practice with the 2019 signing of SB 233. Senate Bill 233 text.
The state of New York banned the practice with a budget amendment in 2015. Proposed Language, not passed. (S.5638)
Washington DC‘s Metro Police Department (MPD) distributed cards explaining that carrying condoms was not a crime. 2014 Article explaining the change.
Extensive research has been done about the practice of using condoms as evidence that people are engaged in prostitution domestically and globally.
- (New York City) Public Health Crisis: The Impact of Using Condoms as Evidence in New York City, PROS Network/Sex Workers Project. April 2012.
- (United States) Sex Workers at Risk: The Use of Condoms as Evidence in Four US Cities. Human Rights Watch. (July, 2012)
- (United States) Wurth, Margaret & Schleifer, Rebecca & McLemore, Megan & Todrys, Katherine. (2013). Condoms as evidence of prostitution in the United States and the criminalization of sex work. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 16. 18626. 10.7448/IAS.16.1.18626.
- (International) Criminalizing Condoms: How Policing Practices Put Sex Workers and HIV Services at Risk in Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Open Society Foundation. July 2012.
“The public health issue outweighs the public safety issue.”Rep. Kathleen Rice, fmr District Attorney, Nassau County
At the Federal Level: (From HRW’s Sex Workers at Risk)
- The Office of National AIDS Policy and the federal agencies charged with implementing the National AIDS Strategy should:
- Recognize that human rights abuses are significant barriers to HIV prevention for sex workers, transgender women, LGBT youth, and other vulnerable groups and prioritize structural interventions to address those abuses;
- Call upon states to prohibit the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution and related offenses, and develop a plan to provide guidance, technical assistance, and model legislation to accomplish this objective;
- Ensure the inclusion of sex workers and transgender women in the efforts of the Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-related Health Disparities;
- Ensure that HIV research and surveillance data adequately reflects the impact of HIV on sex workers and transgender women.
At the State Level:
- Congressional: Enact legislation to prohibit the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution and related offenses.
- Administrative: Issue an executive order prohibiting the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution and related offenses by the New York City Police Department.
At the Municipal level:
- City Councils/Administrative Actors: Enact city-level directives to prohibit the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution and related offenses.
- City Councils/Administrative Actors: Support state-wide legislation with a resolution.
- Departments of Health: Call on law enforcement to pass policies banning the practice.
- Police Departments: Pass a department-wide policy banning the possession of condoms as evidence to arrest, question, or detain persons suspected of sex work, or to support prosecution of prostitution and related offenses.
- District Attorneys: Pass a policy not to accept condoms as evidence for a prostitution-related charge.