New York’s police and prosecutors should not be permitted to introduce condoms as evidence of prostitution and prostitution-related offenses, according to the students who work in Columbia’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. The Clinic held a tabling day yesterday at Columbia Law School in support of a New York State bill that would enact this prohibition into law. Over 50 Columbia Law students signed postcards to legislators to support the bill, sending a strong message to legislators that sound public health policy militates against the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.
Under current law, police and prosecutors can and do use condoms to prove prostitution and related offenses, such as patronizing a prostitute, promoting prostitution, and maintaining a premises for prostitution. The bill is critical to protecting public health in New York and deterring police officers from using condoms as pretextual justification for arbitrary search and seizure. Criminalization of condom possession directly conflicts with New York’s longstanding public policy of encouraging condom use, a policy it has effected in part by distributing free condoms since 1971. The proposed bill, which is in committee in the Senate and on the floor of the Assembly, would prohibit the use of those and other condoms in seven enumerated prostitution-related crimes. Law enforcement officials would still be able to use condoms as evidence in rape and sexual assault cases, as they would in any other type of case not named in the bill.
The Clinic became aware of law enforcement’s use of condoms as evidence of prostitution during the course of its collaboration with community-based advocacy organizations in New York City, including the Sex Workers Project (SWP) at the Urban Justice Center. The SWP is spearheading the effort to pass the bill. The Urban Justice Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights have written legislative memos supporting the bill; the SWP has also organized an online petition to gather signatures to legislators.
Sarah Morris, SJ Lee, and Rena Stern, Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic students, are in charge of the project.