As a sexually active woman, I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying condoms in my purse, especially when I was dating. I never considered how many I had in my purse at any given time and I would’ve never thought that practicing safe sex and protecting myself could get me in trouble with the law.
Apparently, in Washington, DC, it can.
In the process of lowering the standards for arrest, the health of sex workers is placed in grave danger by procedures used by the D.C. police to determine who is a sex worker. Police confiscation of safer sex tools like condoms for use as evidence of intent to engage in prostitution is not uncommon. Anecdotal evidence suggests that having three or more condoms is considered a proxy for being a sex worker. Practices like these that discourage the procurement and use of condoms by sex workers, undermine the efforts of non-profit groups who do outreach with sex workers, and is an outrageous policy in a city that has the highest HIV rates in the country. [RH Reality Check]
Washington, DC has passed the DC Prostituion Free Zone amendment in 2006, which ‘authorizes the Chief of Police to declare “Prostitution Free Zones” in the District of Columbia, in areas where the health or safety of residents is endangered by with prostitution or prostitution-related offenses. The law provides that, while a Prostitution Free Zone is in effect, it is unlawful for a group of two or more persons to congregate in a public space or property in that area for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related offenses.‘
According to the Move Along Report on Policing Sex Work in Washington, DC, police can arrest individuals who are ‘congregating’ in a prostitution-free zone and confiscate their safe-sex tools, such as condoms. So if you go dancing with your girlfriends in a prostitution-free zone, you could potentially be treated as a prostitute by a DC police officer while you’re waiting for a cab and/or your ride.
In an area that has a very high rate of HIV/AIDS, this amendment takes safety one step backward, putting more people at risk as women stop carrying condoms in fear of being harassed and/or arrested on a night out.
According to Change.org, DC isn’t the only major city implementing this dangerous practice. Evidently, New York and San Francisco also use Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution.
They have a petition available ‘telling the mayors of D.C., New York, and San Francisco to issue a statement that fighting STDs, especially HIV/AIDS, is their top priority — and that nobody should be afraid carry condoms, because it won’t be used against them as evidence of sex work.’
As a woman, how do you feel about these laws?
As a person, what is your take on criminalization of sex work, as opposed to criminalization of trafficking women? Shouldn’t we be focusing on putting the crackdowns on the pimps, rather than giving the women more reason to be afraid to come forward and condemn their pimps?