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Practicing Safe Sex Can Get You Arrested

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?

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Phoenix Vail January 12, 2010, 12:34 pm

    Okay! Lets for a minute say I’m not married, I’m on the dating scene and I may get the urge to engage in a one night stand with whomever strikes my fancy at the bar/club whatever… WHY is it wrong to have more than 3 condoms in my purse??? What if I decide I want to have sex with said winner-of-the-night, three times, before leaving and never calling him (hey, if men can get away with this behavior, why cant women!!!)
    But seriously – Are the lawmakers not concerned with the general health safety of the population? It’s just as stupid as when I learned that I shouldn’t be carrying around my pepper spray (Dude! I live in New London! OKAY??) because it’s considered a weapon. I guess too many losers have used pepper spray against the police thus in the state of CT and RI it is illegal to have Pepper Spray.
    What the hell is this country coming to?
    I heard something about this condom thing a few days ago. Thanks for blogging about it. 🙂

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 2:54 pm

      Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. I just hope enough people take action and sign the petition.

      The DC government had a campaign where they send 10 free condoms to each household. So potentially, I could get arrested by DC police that the DC government sent me to encourage safe sex!

  • LivingWicked January 12, 2010, 1:36 pm

    This is fucking bullshit.

    Who are they to regulate what I can and cannot legally carry in my purse?!

    Thats it. When I come to DC I am carrying 2 purses. 1 specifically for my condoms and 1 for the rest of my shit.

    Say I wont.
    .-= LivingWicked´s last blog ..Preferred Peeves. =-.

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 2:52 pm

      I was thinking of a belt…or a vest with condoms pinned on it like flair.

  • Living with Balls January 12, 2010, 2:48 pm

    I wish more women would carry condoms on them. You can’t always rely on the man to remember to bring one.
    .-= Living with Balls´s last blog ..The Joy of Farting: My First Guest Post =-.

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 2:51 pm

      I think every woman should be responsible for her own well-being and when you’re sexually active, that means bringing the condoms.

  • Jeney January 12, 2010, 2:56 pm

    Seriously? The contents of your purse is now substantial enough to get you arrested for prostitution?

    That’s like saying having three or more lighters in my purse gives you the right to arrest me as an arsonist.

    I call shenanigans.
    .-= Jeney´s last blog ..Post It Note Tuesday (and an apology…) =-.

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 3:02 pm

      Apparently so. Check to see if your city has a similar law and be sure to sign a petition to get it reversed.

  • Liebchen January 12, 2010, 3:19 pm

    1) I think this is ridiculous.
    2) How is it going to be enforced? If the police see a group of women on the street, do they have the right to say “open your purses”?
    I feel like this is a classic example of ignoring the bigger problem(s) and trying to micromanage society.
    .-= Liebchen´s last blog ..My laminated top five – a la Friends =-.

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 3:39 pm

      You’re right about the micromanaging. In the Move Along Report, they detail how the police enforce this law and how it can certainly lead to harassment.

  • LiLu January 12, 2010, 3:24 pm

    Those officers are probably the same guy who says “Oh, I forgot one… doesn’t it *feel* better without, anyway?”

    And then won’t pay for half your abortion. What the FUCK?
    .-= LiLu´s last blog ..B Tells You What To Do With Your Life, Part I =-.

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 3:39 pm

      I bet you’re right.

  • Paula January 12, 2010, 5:09 pm

    This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. Period.

    It is not a general rule for me to carry around condoms but if I’m seeing someone and think they might not have condoms in their place, I’ll bring a couple just in case. If that got me stopped for prostitution . . . I mean, SERIOUSLY. If they want us to all have more chance of having unwanting pregnancies, STDs and HIV from fear of carrying around contraception, then they are bloody idiots!

    • PrincessQ January 12, 2010, 6:08 pm

      It’s pretty ridiculous.

  • Kendall January 12, 2010, 8:56 pm

    Over the summer, I carried a condom or two in my wallet just in case. So if I had gone to DC and a cop stopped me, I could be arrested for prostitution. I mean I know I’m a manwhore but jeez-o.

    Seriously though, this is utterly ridiculous. Kinda of like abstinence-only sex-ed. Only worse.

    I grew up in an area with a stupidly high rate of prostitution (for a town its size). I personally wish they would go after the traffickers but for some reason, the Powers That Be like to pretend it either doesn’t exist or isn’t as huge a problem as it is.
    .-= Kendall´s last blog ..This? This Is My Heart. See How It Breaks. =-.

  • Steph January 13, 2010, 12:20 am

    From an email to DCist from Gwendloyn Crump, spokesperson for MPD:

    “”Although the possession of multiple condoms may be a factor that leads an officer to suspect (reasonable suspicion) that a person is engaged in prostitution, it is not enough to establish probable cause for any crime. Depending on the circumstances, factors such as this may justify an investigative stop – but not an arrest.

    If an individual is congregating with at least one other person in a Prostitution Free Zone (PFZ), which is already by nature a high prostitution area, late at night with no apparent destination, and in possession of multiple condoms, that would be sufficient to order the individual to disperse. Police cannot just order individuals to leave a PFZ without a reasonable suspicion that they are engaged in prostitution or prostitution-related activities.

    The criminal offense associated with a PFZ involves the failure to disperse after an officer issues such an order to two or more persons congregating on public space within the PFZ for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or prostitution-related activities. The indicators for determining whether a group is congregating for prostitution-related activities are below, and the full DC Code section is attached.

    Essentially, if police cannot arrest someone for having two or more condoms outside a PFZ, police cannot arrest them for it within a PFZ. Community members often refer to PFZs as an anti-loitering statute. To some extent that is accurate, but the only loitering that is prohibited is that related to prostitution.””

  • Squish January 13, 2010, 11:34 am

    Frankly, my sex(uality) is mine to sell if I choose to do so. I think the criminalization of prostitution is ridiculous and attempting to enforce it is a waste of money.

    But I do think Prostitution should be a Self-Employed position, or a job in an established and monitored facility. (That may be partly because I have a desperate desire to be a madam – but whatever.) Make prostitutes pay taxes on their earnings, and ensure that public safety is being ensured by establishing guidelines.

    I know at least a couple strippers who would be glad to know that they were only expected to dance – because the guy would have gone somewhere else if he wanted sex.

    …but i’ll stop there before this becomes it’s own blog lol.
    .-= Squish´s last blog ..Movie Pouting. =-.
    .-= Squish´s last blog ..Movie Pouting. =-.

  • MinD January 15, 2010, 2:05 pm

    I saw an article about this several days ago and found it utterly ridiculous. People are encouraged to practice safe sex, and yet this emerges? You’ve got to be kidding me. A man can carry condoms and he’s just looking for a good night. But a woman does, and she’s prostituting herself? How hypocritical and completely backward-thinking.

  • Suburban Sweetheart January 15, 2010, 2:42 pm

    Wow. This is fucking amazing – and NOT in a good way.

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