Condoms = Arrest?

From Ms Magazine

Police policies often discourage sex workers from carrying protection


“First [the police officer] asked me what I was doing with all these condoms. Then he took the bag and threw it in the garbage. Then he arrested me.” —A transgender woman in New York City, from a 2009 Sex Workers Project survey.

Sienna Baskin, staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project in New York City, says there’s a question she’s always asked at the “Know Your Rights” workshops she leads for prostitutes and other sex workers: “How many condoms are we legally allowed to carry?”

There is no law in any state in the U.S. restricting condom possession, but if you’re a sex worker, you might have reason to believe there is a legal limit. Law enforcement officers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area routinely confiscate condoms from suspected suspected sex workers, sometimes filing them as evidence of prostitution. Almost everyone interviewed for a recent Sex Workers Project survey, Baskin says, “mentioned a certain number of condoms over which they
felt more concerned about increased harassment.” Cyndee Clay, executive director of D.C.-based Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, says, “It’s a common enough practice that everyone knows about it.”

Keeping a few condoms tucked in your handbag probably won’t land you behind bars—unless police profile you as a possible sex worker. Are you in an area known for street prostitution? Are you a transgender woman? Are you a woman of color? Do you have a prior record? If you answer yes to any of these questions, the number of condoms you’re carrying could suddenly become grounds for suspicion, even if you are not engaging in illegal activity.

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There have also been cases of AIDS Prevention Workers doing outreach work passing out condoms to sex workers in the streets being harassed and arrested by cops who think it is their duty to enforce some sort of faith based morality and that AIDS is divine retribution on sex workers, especially if those sex workers are trans or gay.

3 Responses to “Condoms = Arrest?”

  1. Sharon Gaughan Says:

    I have been hassled on the streets by police during safe sex projects among sex workers. The cops discovered I had a bag full of condoms, figured I was a prostitute, and locked me up with the whole lot. I have never done sex work, but I dealt with it out of solidarity.

    Each time, the girls were very sweet about it, saying “You don’t belong here”, etc.

    Later on, we coopted the whole thing by helping with the formation of a standalone organization, sponsoring booths and public appearances, and going to jail often enough that the cops started to ask me for advice on how to handle the problem. I would say “You mean the Johns get away?”

    Things have calmed down a lot in the DC area the past few years. People are better educated now.

  2. Willow Arune Says:

    Up here, we have a needle exchange and they also provide boxes of free condoms to sex trade workers. In fact, they have a large truck and do deliveries to shacks and the like.

    Why would you not do so? AIDS is still out there, along with other STDs. After all, there are so many churches and miinisters (Swaggart, Baker, etc), one has to be protected…

  3. Willow Arune Says:

    Just a thought – how many guys carry condoms in their wallet or back pocket – all the time. Why not arrest those, single or married, for the same things… Yeah, maybe only a few, but the intent is obvious.

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