The New York City Police Department announced Monday that it will scale back its policy of using condoms as evidence in cases against sex workers, but will continue to use condoms as evidence in certain cases. The change comes as an administrative policy shift, though sex workers and public health advocates have been lobbying for years to have the policy struck down by state lawmakers. That bill — S1379 — has been repeatedly introduced in the legislature but has yet to pass.
As a result of this policy, people engaged in sex work were faced with the threat of arrest and prosecution for carrying condoms -- a necessary precaution to protect themselves, their clients and their partners. It made following best safe sex practices a liability for sex workers. The policy was also used to target, harass and arrest trans people of color, gender non-conforming people and women of color that police profiled as sex workers.
While limiting the cases in which condoms will be used as evidence is an improvement, police will still use condoms as evidence in some cases, and that remains a problem, advocates say. The new policy guidelines allow police and prosecutors to use condoms as evidence in charges related to the promotion of prostitution or sex trafficking, which still leaves sex workers open to prosecution.
“Survivors or victims who are trafficked can still have condoms used against them" at the discretion of the police, Shelby Chestnut, an activist with the Anti-Violence Project, told Al Jazeera America. “Leaving out the trafficking component leaves a big loophole under which people can still be charged.”
“We have already seen cases where traffickers have deprived their victims of condoms, and where brothels have hidden and stored condoms in unsafe ways to prevent them from being detected by police,” Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, told Al Jazeera America, noting the limits of the policy shift. “We need to prioritize the lives and health of those who are most vulnerable by removing this deterrent."