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D.C. Police Confirm Condom Policy that Endangers Public Health

by Alex DiBranco

categories: Health, Sex Work

Published January 12, 2010 @ 05:41PM PT

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Washington, D.C.: home to the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country. So you'd think they'd do everything possible to prevent the spread of the epidemic, such as promoting safe sex techniques. Why, then, do police do exactly the opposite by using condoms as evidence that prostitution is occurring?

DCist contacted the Metropolitan Police Department for comment on its policy after they reported on an article I wrote last week about the use of condoms as evidence in "Prostitution Free Zones." According to DCist, MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump confirms that condoms can be used as a factor leading "an officer to suspect (reasonable suspicion) that a person is engaged in prostitution," but stresses that possession of rubbers alone isn't sufficient cause for an order to disperse or arrest.

This mirrors the San Francisco police's position: they have defended a similar practice by saying that "a pocket full of condoms alone is not a basis for arrest." This defense of the policy appears to be motivated by the desire to dodge privacy concerns and outrage from the many women who like to prepare for a night out (seriously, that's a lot of women they'd be calling sex workers). However, it doesn't address the major problem with this practice: the danger to the health of sex workers and the public.

Considering condoms as even one factor for arrest deters sex workers from using protection. "The risk of catching something is better than being arrested," according to Patricia West, a sex worker and outreach volunteer for San Francisco's St. James Infirmary, which provides health care for members of the world's oldest profession.

While Crumps states that possession of condoms alone would be insufficient for a disperse order or an arrest, what exactly would be sufficient cause? She tells DCist that a police officer could order someone to leave a PFZ if that person were "congregating with at least one other person ... late at night with no apparent destination, and in possession of multiple condoms." On its website, the MPD says that not dispersing on the order of an officer "will result in arrest without a second warning." In addition, leaving, but then getting discovered again later congregating within the PFZ, will also lead to arrest without warning.

Given these regulations for "sufficient cause," I can definitely understand why sex workers would be afraid to carry condoms. To prevent the spread of STDs, this practice has to go.

We must prioritize the health of sex workers and the public. Especially in D.C. -- once again, highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country.

Photo credit: Mer

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Comments (1)

  1. Patrick Harris

    What I want to know is what the condom manufactures have to say about this, as their products, in Washington, D.C., will be treated as if they were a controlled substance, birth-control or STD prevention paraphernalia, or just maybe they are planning to criminalize the manufacture, sale, and purchase, because it seems they are already testing or sneaking in criminalization of the possession of them...WOW...when will they ever learn that prohibition only creates criminals, however, in this case it will lead to greater numbers of abortions, greater spread of STD's, and death! This type of law will affect everyone, not just women...not just those that gain their living through sex trade...yeah, it will affect your children, you...everyone...for it creates a new class of criminal and will make responsible teens afraid to be safe because they could get arrested for having over the legal limit of condoms...that's just wrong!

    Posted by Patrick Harris on 01/14/2010 @ 07:59PM PT

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Alex DiBranco

Alex DiBranco is a Change.org Editor.

Alex is passionate about feminism, queer issues, sex positivism, atheism/secular humanism, full rights for everyone who crosses our borders (voluntarily or not), and critiquing America’s flawed educational system. She has interned and written for The Nation, Political Research Associates (a think-tank that monitors the right-wing), and the Center for American Progress. Alex is now based in New York City and writes poetry on the sly.

In Washington, D.C., "condoms can be used as a factor leading 'an officer to suspect that a person is engaged in prostitution.'"

Posted via web from davidfcooper's posterous

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