July 19, 2012


This report is based on research conducted in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles by a five-member team from the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch between October 2011 and July 2012. Research began with inquiries to sex worker organizations and sex worker advocates, transgender, harm reduction, and HIV advocates, and public defenders in more than 15 cities throughout the United States about whether police or prosecutors were using condoms as evidence of prostitution. From this preliminary investigation New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco emerged as cities consistently reporting the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.

Human Rights Watch interviewed an estimated 197 current and former sex workers for the report, including 77 in New York and 40 in each of the other cities. Interviews were conducted both individually and in groups, in a variety of settings that included the offices of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with sex workers, outdoors as part of street outreach shifts, in restaurants and other public spaces, in the offices of Human Rights Watch, and on the telephone. It is difficult to ascertain an exact number of sex workers interviewed in the course of conducting the research for this report because not everyone self-identified as such and there was often overlap among outreach workers, advocates, and others. The majority of sex workers and former sex workers interviewed were female or transgender persons, primarily transgender women.

All persons interviewed were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the information would be used. All interviewees provided oral consent to be interviewed. Pseudonyms are used for all current and former sex workers and others requesting anonymity in order to protect their privacy, confidentiality, and safety.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed more than 110 outreach workers, advocates, lawyers, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, public health officials, and police officers in the four cities. Documents were obtained through Freedom of Information Law and public record requests and shared with Human Rights Watch from multiple sources, including the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, the Legal Aid Society of New York, and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. All documents cited in the report are publicly available or on file with Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch sought the perspective of government officials in each city including the police, prosecutors, and public health officials. Official responses in each city are detailed in the Findings section of the report.