In D.C., New York and San Fran, Carrying a Condom Can Give Cause to Arrest

You’d think this was one of those mythical laws from one of those Puritan colonial states, but it’s not. D.C. police confirm that carrying a condom, while with another person, can contribute to cause to arrest for prostitution.

Making condoms a factor for arrest, discourages prostitutes (or anyone, really) from practicing safe sex — this is especially terrifying news for the District, which has the highest HIV infection rate in the U.S.

Sign the petition to keep condoms from being used as evidence.

Hat tip to Tyler for the link.
Kate is guest blogging for the week at Feministe. She’s a part-time journalist and a full-time law student. Follow her on twitter @itscompliKATEd.

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21 comments for “In D.C., New York and San Fran, Carrying a Condom Can Give Cause to Arrest

  1. Lance
    July 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    So, if I’m walking with a woman and have $100 in my pocket, is that evidence of intent to solicit prostitution?

  2. Holy!
    July 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I see San Fran is still a horribly run city.

  3. July 12, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    WTF? That is… I’m out of words. That’s insane! So the only time people might want to use condoms, according to these people, is for commercial sex?!

    I… no, really. No words.

  4. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Folks who live in NYC and want to do activism/stuff related to this issue, I recommend contacting the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center or the PROS Network.

  5. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    In D.C. I’m not sure which orgs are working on it but probably Different Avenues.

  6. July 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I read about that in Ms. I was really pissed off about it. I mean, what are they thinking? Arresting someone for carrying a condom is idiotic.

  7. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Oh boy, the great Ms. Magazine is weighing in now.

  8. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    I mean I guess I must’ve realized that some “big” news outlet had picked this up, I’ve been seeing the story over and over devoid from any context for a while now. But of course its devoid of context, its Ms.

  9. July 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    I can’t believe anyone thinks such laws would stop people from engaging in prostitution. Seems like a cover for a conservative (puritanical even) agenda around sex and sexuality.

  10. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Stopping people from “engaging in prostitution” is not the goal. Padding arrest stats in street sweeps and exercising as much power as possible is the goal. And it does not stop people from “engaging in prostitution.” It just stops people from carrying condoms…more than three, usually, but that’s just an urban myth. Really any number of condoms can be used against you. It is a huge issue that prostitutes and people profiled as prostitutes (usually trans women) face.

  11. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Usually trans women and former prostitutes, I should say. People who are known to the police from having been arrested for prostitution are arrested just walking down the street even after they have left the profession.

  12. July 12, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Quite frankly, I can’t believe such a law would be found to be constitutional if challenged.

    RD hit the nail on the head, btw. This wasn’t meant to stop prostitution so much as it was to allow for an additional means of harassing people.

  13. Alex
    July 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I just want to clarify, as someone who lives in DC and volunteers for a group that provides services for sex workers…

    The real problem here is not the condoms. Just walking around anywhere in DC at night with 3 condoms is not going to get you arrested. While the condom clause is stupid, the larger issue is the specific geographical locations where it’s enforced – the Prostitution Free Zones. The police will periodically instate these in a couple of high-traffic areas, and basically tell anyone who looks like they’re working to move along.

    Obviously, some police don’t need a reason to harass someone who they suspect of being a sex worker, but carrying condoms is not illegal, and not carrying condoms is unlikely to help you if a cop decides to bust your ass. (Not arguing with the unjustness of this, I just want to make anyone in DC understands how this is working.)

  14. Blah
    July 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    While this policy is clearly silly, it’s important to remember that the ONLY TIME an officer would have cause to examine your belongings in sufficient detail to find a condom is during an arrest; a Terry stop (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); the only time other than an arrest when an officer can search you against your will), an officer can only search for weapons or material that is plainly illegal and can clearly be felt through one’s clothing (Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993)); as condom possession itself isn’t illegal (see Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972)), an officer who performs a search incident to a Terry stop — which itself requires a reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous — would be barred from using any condom-related evidence in determining whether or not to arrest someone.

    If you really want to help with this, go find someone who’s been busted and convince him or her to fight it. This fearmongering isn’t going to change anything.

  15. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    I’ve heard of the “prostitution free zones” and they are shitty but please don’t come in here and try to argue that this is not a problem.

  16. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Hey BLAH. There are people out there fighting this already! How do you think it made the fucking news? In NY they can arrest you whenever they want basically for “loitering with intent.”

  17. RD
    July 12, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    You took down my comments about Alexa? I can prove that shit.

  18. July 13, 2010 at 12:05 am

    RD, what you’re saying is not what this thread is about. Not to mention that misogynist and other dehumanising language – irrespective of what anyone may or may not have done – believe it or not contravene the comment policy on a number of counts, so that’s a separate issue from the verity of what you’re saying. As such, nothing you’re going to say about Alexa is going to be let through the queue. Stop now.

  19. July 13, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    As a resident of the District, I have to say that it’s a very strange combination of wealthy, very educated, very privileged, usually white people living in one part of town and on the other side of town, African-Americans living in dire poverty. This particular law is put in place partially as a means of keep sex workers from making the city “look bad”. Any time there is a significant event with a lot of press coverage expected, sex workers are shuttled from one part of town to another.

  20. Anna Phor
    July 14, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Are there any (recent) cases where this has actually been invoked?

  21. RD
    July 14, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Sex Workers Project




    Police at the very least *confiscating* condoms is pretty much standard practice. They note them in arrest reports, use them as evidence, etc. etc. also.

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