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(New York) – The New York State Assembly should enact a bill that would prohibit the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. Assembly bill 2736 was voted out of the New York State Assembly Rules Committee on June 20, 2013 and could be passed by the full assembly before the session ends on June 21.

In the 2012 report “Sex Workers at Risk: Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities,”Human Rights Watch found that police in New York City stop, search, and arrest people identified or profiled as sex workers, using possession of condoms as evidence of intent to engage in prostitution-related offenses. Though few prostitution or loitering cases proceed to trial, prosecutors in New York have introduced condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses in criminal court.

“New York State should stop undermining HIV prevention by using condoms as evidence of prostitution,” said Rebecca Schleifer, health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The assembly speaker should swiftly bring this bill to a vote, and every assembly member concerned about public health should vote in favor.”

Sex workers and LGBT people told Human Rights Watch that they were aware that New York police confiscate condoms as evidence. They said that, as a result, they feared carrying condoms either for use with clients or with other sexual partners, and sometimes engaged in unprotected sex.

New York State distributes millions of condoms a year. When police officers confiscate condoms and prosecutors use them as evidence to justify prostitution-related charges, it wastes taxpayer dollars and undermines the state’s efforts to combat HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies, Human Rights Watch said.

Passing Assembly bill 2736 is particularly important for human trafficking victims, Human Rights Watch said. Using condoms as evidence in trafficking cases provides a perverse incentive to traffickers to prohibit victims from carrying or using condoms or to restrict victims’ access to condoms, including by refusing to make them available at locations where the trafficking victims are being exploited. Leading anti-trafficking advocates have endorsed the bill, as it would protect trafficking victims from additional harm, including HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“Distributing millions of condoms and then taking them out of the hands of New Yorkers who need them the most is bad public policy,” Schleifer said. “Passing this bill would send a clear message that New York’s lawmakers care about the health and safety of all New Yorkers, including sex workers and victims of trafficking.”

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