“If you look at the ways transgender people of color are profiled, this is a key example of how they are targeted by the people who should be protecting them.”
NEW YORK — Sex workers advocates and other proponents of New York legislation that would ban the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution cases plan to meet with lawmakers at the state’s capitol next week — a small sign of progress in an effort to pass the bill that has lasted for more than a decade.
Police — particularly in New York City — have seized condoms from people suspected of prostitution or intending to prostitute and have held them as evidence, causing sex workers to fear carrying multiple condoms they might need, according to advocates at the Sex Workers Project, an initiative of the New York-based Urban Justice Center. The practice comes even as the city distributes free condoms as a matter of public health.
“It’s a really big problem and we’ve been working on getting the state to resolve it through this legislation,” Sienna Baskin, co-director at the Sex Workers Project, said to BuzzFeed. “It’s affecting transgender people who are not even doing sex work and condoms are being used against them as well.”
Transgender people of color in the city are often the victims of police violence and misconduct, and with that, are often profiled as sex workers, said Shelby Chestnut, interim co-director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
“We commonly see transgender and gender non-conforming people are profiled for loitering with the intent to prostitute, and condoms are used as evidence to prosecute them for it,” Chestnut told BuzzFeed. “If you look at the ways transgender people of color are profiled, this is a key example of how they are targeted by the people who should be protecting them. It doesn’t make sense.”
In other words, advocates contend authorities are using the possession of condoms, or multiple condoms, as evidence against people who aren’t doing sex work and at the same time are discouraging sex workers from carrying the condoms they might need to be safe for fear of arrest and prosecution, which ultimately goes against the city’s public health efforts.
Legislation pending before lawmakers in Albany would make New York the first state to prohibit authorities from using condoms as evidence in prosecuting cases of prostitution and goes as far as to extend to cases of “patronizing a prostitute, promoting prostitution, permitting prostitution, maintaining a premises for prostitution, lewdness or assignation, or maintaining a bawdy house,” according to the bill’s summary.