The New York Department of Public Health often distributes free condoms, clean syringes, and other health-related items to the public. What’s the catch? The New York City Police Department could be waiting undercover down the street, ready to pick up those that they suspect of prostitution—and use the condoms they were given as evidence against them.
The Village Voice states in its article by Emily Gogolak, published March 6, 2013: “There is no law that says the possession of condoms is illegal, of course, and yet NYPD officers routinely use the possession of condoms as arrest evidence for charges of prostitution or loitering for the purposes of prostitution. This has created a situation that would be farcical if it weren’t so bleak—one city agency conducts a public-health campaign and the very people who take advantage of it are then promptly arrested by a different city agency—leading to cases being thrown out of court, a suppressed and redacted city-sponsored study of the problem, and a bill to address the matter in the current session of the state legislature.”
Though carrying condoms is not illegal, prostitution cases often do not go to trial, forgoing the opportunity to argue against the claims made by the police.
The Village Voice states that of the prostitution-related cases in New York in 2011 (over 4,000) very few went to trial. In those that did reach a court room the judge dismissed those cases in which the evidence was merely the possession of condoms.
Cases are often settled outside of court in order to avoid longer jail sentences for the accused, and to quicken the ordeal of legal action.
It’s a curious contradiction — one city department argues for the safety and health of its inhabitants, the other arrests those who take advantage of the resources offered.
And what’s more is that the transgender community is affected in greater numbers, discouraging them from carrying condoms on them, and subsequently jeopardizing their ability to practice safe sex.
The fight to discontinue the condoms-as-evidence practice has met some opposition.
Says the Village Voice:
“The legislation was first introduced by Brooklyn Democratic state senator Velmanette Montgomery in 1999. Reintroduced every year since, it has regularly died in committee. But it was reintroduced again in mid-January as the “No Condoms As Evidence Bill,” sponsored by Montgomery and Queens Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara M. Clark, and after the release of the reports last year, there is a new push for the legislation to pass this session. If it does, it will be the first state legislation to take a policy stance on this issue.”
Yvette Gonzales, formerly a prostitute in New York and now an employee at New York-based NGO Positive Health Project, states in The New York Times: “‘The police need to understand: Don’t take their condoms. You’re taking someone’s health from them.’”