NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department will no longer confiscate unused condoms as evidence of prostitution by people suspected of being sex industry workers, abolishing a practice criticized by civil rights groups for undermining efforts to combat AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
Advocates for sex workers and civil rights groups had long pushed for the policy change, noting that the city spends more than $1 million every year to distribute free condoms.
For decades, police in New York and elsewhere had confiscated condoms from sex work suspects ostensibly for them to be used as evidence in criminal trials, even though the overwhelming majority of prostitution cases never go to trial.
“A policy that inhibits people from safe sex is a mistake and dangerous,” di Blasio said Monday at an unrelated event in Queens. “And there are a number of ways you can go about putting together evidence” without condoms, he said.
A 2010 study by the city’s Department of Health surveyed more than 60 sex workers and found that more than half had condoms confiscated by police. Nearly a third said they had at times not carried condoms because they feared getting into trouble.
Two years later, the group Human Rights Watch interviewed 197 sex workers in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco and found that many limited the number of condoms they carried or went without because they feared police attention. The report concluded that transgender teens, street-level sex workers and immigrants were especially targeted because of their appearance or behavior.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn and Long Island’s Nassau County and in San Francisco decided last year to no longer use condoms as evidence in prostitution cases.
Measures to formally abolish the practice across New York state have been introduced in the Legislature for nearly two decades and last year passed the Assembly. Similar legislation has been introduced in California.
The New York Police Department makes about 2,500 prostitution arrests a year.
One respondent in the Human Rights Watch study, Brooklyn sex worker Pam G., told the researchers she has had condoms taken by police.
“The cops say, ‘What are you carrying all those condoms for? We could arrest you just for this,'” she said. “It happens all the time around here. I may be carrying eight condoms. If you have more than three or four, they will take them.”
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