Bill Would Ban Use of Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Court

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With criticisms of stop-and-frisk practices on the rise, one piece of legislation is targeting a police practice that doesn't involve searches for drugs or weapons.

Lawmakers in Albany have sponsored a bill that would stop courts from using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution. Currently, if cops stop someone on the street that they suspect is a prostitute, search the person, and find condoms, those contraceptives can be used as evidence in criminal court that the person was in fact engaged in sex work.

Those working to stop this policy aren't just going after this practice because of what they see as a problematic argument -- that condom possession implies prostitution. The lawmakers argue that it's also a major health concern, because it discourages individuals from carrying condoms on them, which in turn promotes unsafe sex.

This is not the first time this legislation has been introduced -- since 1999 it has been re-introduced every year, repeatedly dying in committee.

The New York Times, reporting on the legislation last week, said that the backers of the bill -- advocacy groups that have been fighting against this policy -- are optimistic that this time it may actually go through.

Yesterday, Runnin' Scared caught up with Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, of Queens, who, along with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, is sponsoring the bill.

It's just common sense at this point, she said.

"It's kind of absurd to think that if you have several condoms with you, you're out there to prostitute. People get them when they are at health fairs," she said, noting that when they are free, people might grab a handful. "Why not take a batch if people are giving them away to you? It shouldn't be criminal to have [condoms] in your pocketbook."

It is of course legal to carry a condom, but when prostitutes learn that they are being used against them in court, they sometimes stop bringing protection, putting themselves at great risk. (The Times piece has some good first-hand stories that illustrate this problem).

"They should have condoms with them at all times. It's a serious health issue," said Clark. "If you're trying to make yourself safe...you don't want to have to take a chance that you'll be arrested."

A rep from Clark's office told Runnin' Scared that it's particularly of concern in the black community, which has been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Clark, speaking by phone from Albany, said she is hopeful that this time around it will go through.

"I can't quite figure out why it's languished," she said. "That's what happens sometimes in the legislature."

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

Go to Runnin' Scared for all our latest news coverage.


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