When Having Condoms Gets You Arrested

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-94806160/stock-photo-condom-in-the-pocket-of-blue-jeans.html?src=pp-photo-97103474-Ki0yeWobyb5rgQFhzAYZfg-6">Africa Studios</a>/Shutterstock

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Last week, Mother Jones‘ Molly Redden wrote about a recent Human Rights Watch report, “In Harm’s Way,” which argues that aggressive policing in New Orleans is contributing to the city’s soaring HIV/AIDS rates. One tactic that Human Rights Watch found to be particularly problematic: the police harassment of suspected sex workers for possessing condoms.

Transgender women reported the police calling them a “thing,” a “whore,” and “a disgrace to America” while searching them for condoms.

At the heart of the matter is the vague definition of the crime of “loitering for prostitution,” which invites arbitrary arrests and discriminatory policing. According to the report, police in New Orleans use the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution, even if they don’t witness the crime underway. The result? Of the report’s 169 interviewees, all of whom had exchanged sex for money, drugs, or life necessities, more than a third said that they had carried fewer condoms out of fear of police harassment. More than a quarter had had unprotected sex due to the fear of carrying condoms.

Testimonies in the report describe police harassing sex workers, threatening arrest based on condom possession, and, in some cases, confiscating the condoms altogether. Transgender women reported the police calling them a “thing,” a “whore,” and “a disgrace to America” while searching them for condoms. Cleo, a 36-year-old woman, said, “In the French Quarter [in March of this year] I was at [a bar] with a man and the cops asked only the trans women to go outside and they searched us. If we had condoms we got arrested for attempted solicitation.” 

New Orleans isn’t the only place where Human Rights Watch has documented condom confiscation. Last year, the organization examined the police treatment of sex workers in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, and found that police in all four cities were using condoms as evidence of prostitution.

From last year’s report, “Sex Workers at Risk”:

Police use of condoms as evidence of prostitution has the same effect everywhere. Despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Over the past year, some places have made progress. In June, New York became the first state to pass a law prohibiting the use of condom possession as evidence of prostitution-related crimes. In Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Police started distributing “condom cards” and leaflets to sex workers and community health groups (Example text: “Individuals are allowed to carry as many condoms as they want. There is no ‘three condom rule'”). In February, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS identified the usage of condoms as evidence of prostitution as one of several “HIV-specific criminal laws” that are “fueling the epidemic rather than reducing it.”

Whether or not the New Orleans Police Department will act on the report remains up in the air. Last week, dozens of people in New Orleans marched in front of City Hall holding signs saying “Prevention Not Punishment.” A New Orleans Police Department spokesperson has told local media that “to date, we have no record of the allegations made in this report.”

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

LET’S TALK ABOUT OPTIMISM FOR A CHANGE

Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate