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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Condoms As Evidence in The War Against Prostitution

     One of the key justifications for the criminalization of prostitution is public health, to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. In New York City alone the government spends $1 million a year distributing free condoms with this very purpose in mind.

     Every year, New York City vice officers make 2,500 prostitution arrests. In a few cases, the fact that the sex trade suspect possessed more condoms than what is considered customary has been used as evidence of prostitution.

     Among sex workers, rumor has it that cops will arrest anyone in possession of more than three condoms. While there is not a three-condom rule, a lot of prostitutes no longer carry them in fear of being incriminated by this evidence. What can a prostitute say when the vice officer asks, "What are you doing with all of those condoms?"

     The New York City Department of Health conducted a study in 2010 that revealed that a third of the city's hookers didn't carry condoms as a measure to avoid incriminating themselves.

     Since more than 90 percent of prostitution arrests lead to plea bargained sentences, vice officers rarely need to make their cases using this type of evidence. In suburban New York's Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said that the evidentiary value of condoms does not outweigh the negative public health effect associated with the use of this prosecutorial technique. According to this prosecutor, "condom evidence is rarely of any value to a prosecution. If you need condom possession so badly in a case against a trafficker, you don't have a good case." Prosecutors in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, New York no longer use excessive condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases.

     In 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill banning the introduction of condom possession into evidence at sex trafficking trials. A supporter of this first-of-its-kind legislation, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, told a reporter with the New York Times that "Sex workers are not a politically appealing constituency to most lawmakers." The New York State Senate has not taken up the bill. (It's perhaps a bit ironic that politicians, who are whores themselves, aren't more attuned to the needs of these constituents.) 

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