(New York) – The New York State Assembly enacted a bill to end the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses on the final day of the 2013 legislative session. Assembly bill 2736 was approved by a vote of 80 to 48 on June 21, 2013, and was delivered to the New York State Senate.
The State Senate should pass the bill into law with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature as soon as the legislature reconvenes, Human Rights Watch said.
“The New York State Assembly vote puts New York on course to be the first state in the US with a law to bar the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses,” said Rebecca Schleifer, health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Prompt passage of this law by the Senate will provide important public health benefits to the people of New York.”
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, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and San Francisco confiscate condoms when they stop, search, and arrest people identified or profiled as sex workers. Though few prostitution or loitering cases proceed to trial, prosecutors have used condoms confiscated during these arrests as evidence of prostitution-related offenses in criminal court.
Sex workers and transgender women who were profiled as sex workers told Human Rights Watch that they were aware that 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.
“Distributing millions of condoms and then taking them out of the hands of the people who need them the most undermines public health campaigns to prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections,” Schleifer said. “Comprehensive state legislation is the only way to protect the health and safety of sex workers, victims of trafficking, and the general public.”
Legislation to end the use of condoms as evidence 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 their access to condoms. This may include refusing to make condoms 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.
Human Rights Watch worked with a diverse coalition of public health, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), and anti-trafficking advocates on this campaign.
“By passing this bill, the New York Assembly took decisive action to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers, including sex workers and trafficking victims,” Schleifer said. “The state Senate, Governor Cuomo, and legislators in other states should do the same.”