Carrying Condoms? Criminal!

NY Subway ad for where to find free condoms and stay safe

On The Criminalization of Condoms in the U.S.

Current penal laws regarding evidence admissible for prostitution related charges are so broad that condoms carried by a person or distributed by clinics or bars are included as legal evidence. Without specific legislature stating the inadmissibility of condoms, police can and will continue to confiscate and destroy condoms, as well as admit condoms into evidence in prostitution related charges. While some legal advances were made last year prohibiting the use of condoms in two specific charges (Penal Code 230 Engaging in sex for a fee and Penal Code 240.37 Loitering for the purpose of prostitution) current legislature perpetuate the vulnerabilities inherit in carrying or distributing condoms for 14 other prostitution related charges. As the Red Umbrella Project says on their site, “No one should have to choose between safer sex and arrest.” If you’re interested in reading the bill proposed to end this unjust practice click here.

We are in a charged place in America, a time of crisis where thoughtful and active participation in the legislative process is imperative. The relationship between our citizens and our government is riff with distrust, fear and disappointment. It is vital that our leaders take a stand to support the health and safety of the people by supporting advocacy designed to ensure public health and civil liberties.

Current legislature concerning the criminalization of condoms, especially in light of the free condom campaign in NYC, furthers an outlook of distrust. Many people have identified these discordant practices of government as a form of entrapment. How can condoms be distributed freely at clinics and bars, and then legally seized as evidence to support a prostitution charge? This is a scenario that anyone carrying a condom in NY could fall prey too, including yourself, your sister, your daughter, your son, your brother, your neighbor. Many people are unaware of the law that allows for the confiscation of condoms for use as evidence in prostitution related charges. The breadth of this law permits a gross miscarriage of justice through the profiling and intimidation of many populations within our vibrant city. Immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ youth are frequently targeted for search and seizure of condoms, but anyone could find themselves on the receiving end of this injustice.

One unintended consequence of current law, as documented by research conducted by the PROS Network, includes the fear to carry and use condoms. Groups with this fear include sex workers, LGBTQ youth, and populations profiled by law enforcement such as immigrants and people of color. We are in the middle of an AIDS epidemic. Condoms are the cheapest and most affective way for an individual to protect himself or herself. Over 100,000 people in NY State are living with HIV and AIDS. Less than 13,000 prostitution cases have made it to court in the last ten years.   These numbers hit home the insanity that this law engenders. This issue is bigger than a person’s position on sex workers or birth control. It is a tenent of American democracy that you have every right to believe and act in accordance with your beliefs, and that right is not being challenged. What is being challenged is the general well being of our people. AIDS is winning the battle and, with this law, we are empowering the virus to continue winning.

Do you favor the weakening of public health? Do you favor the deterioration of our civil rights? The District Attorneys in Brooklyn and Nassau County have already made public statements disallowing prosecutors in their districts to submit condoms in court. The government should follow through with these studied and specific decisions and formally change the law. You, reader, should make a call to your representative and tell them what you think. It’s time to remember that having a voice empowers you with the choice to make a difference. If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find them here. Believe in your power to the point of positive change.

Some noble organizations believe that to advocate to change the current law would diminish their arsenal of options to protect the victims of sex trafficking by prohibiting the admittance into trial of DNA evidence found on condoms. In an interview with an attorney at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, I learned that DNA evidence from a used condom could still be admitted in court even if the condoms are not. Of course supporting the abolishment of sex trafficking is necessary, but it is false dichotomy to believe this must included submission to current laws enforcing the criminalization of condoms.

Maybe you think I’m being histrionic. Maybe you think the current law couldn’t have such a negative impact on ourselves, our friends, our neighbors. Well, good for you needing more information before jumping into the fray. If you want to know more, if you want to ensure your right to stay healthy, if you want to abolish a tool for profiling, I encourage you to also check out Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Street Wise and Safe, or any of the forty organizations that form the Access to Condoms Coalition. There is a bill (A04463) concerning this issue in the General Assembly, which needs your support. Google the issue. Make a commitment to ten minutes of social justice; a commitment to change; a commitment to your rights; a commit to your own health.

Do it, I dare you.

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  • Susan Gardner

    Hey everybody! Thanks for reading and for your comments… wanted to let you know I have a meeting with my State Senator’s deputy chief of staff next week to discuss this issue. Will keep you informed! xoxoxo

  • Mark Trumpbour

    Given their low cost and incredible impact in reducing the spread of STIs, I’m surprised that so many neighborhood pharmacies keep the condoms under lock and key. I’d much rather that people have the opportunity to shoplift condoms than create higher barriers to getting people access to them.

  • Adam Short

    Stopping human trafficking is an extraordinarily important social goal that is not advanced in the least by locking people up for carrying condoms. Arresting sex workers, many of whom are enslaved, will never lead to the elimination of human trafficking, and kidnappers and torturers are not carrying dozens of condoms on their persons.

    To address the horrific reality of human trafficking in American cities we need new tools, and this old chestnut – arresting sex workers for carrying medically necessary condoms – should be the first to go.