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NYPD to stop seizing sex work suspects' condoms

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm •  Published: May 12, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department will no longer confiscate unused condoms from suspected sex workers to be used as evidence of prostitution, ending a longstanding practice that had been criticized by civil rights groups for undermining efforts to combat AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.

Under the new policy announced Monday, officers may continue to seize condoms as evidence in sex-trafficking and promotion of prostitution cases, but they will not use them in support of prostitution cases. Critics had said the previous policy amounted to police harassment, and noted that New York City spends more than $1 million a year to distribute free condoms.

"The NYPD heard from community health advocates and took a serious look at making changes to our current policy as it relates to our broader public safety mission," Police Commissioner William Bratton said in announcing the new policy.

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," Mayor Bill de 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.

Civil rights groups and advocates for sex workers and gay, lesbian and transgender young people commended the department's new policy, but want a ban on the use of condoms as evidence in sex trafficking and promotion of prostitution cases too.

They argue that even under the new policy police may continue to seize condoms from sex workers and teen runaways under the pretense of investigating pimps and traffickers, and that traffickers could punish sex workers who carry condoms because they fear they'll be used against them.

"This is a step in the right direction but it doesn't go far enough and creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through," said Andrea Ritchie, a coordinator at Streetwise and Safe, a New York City-based group that has long opposed the department's previous policy. "We will be monitoring the NYPD carefully to see how they implement this policy."

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