July 17, 2012 — "While public health departments spend millions of dollars promoting and distributing condoms, police departments are harassing sex workers for carrying them and using them as evidence to support arrests," Megan McLemore, a senior health researcher for Human Rights Watch, writes in a New York Times piece describing the findings of an investigation by the organization. The investigation included eight months of interviews with more than 200 current and former sex workers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to identify barriers to HIV prevention among sex workers, McLemore explains.
She notes that although some women said they carried condoms despite the risk of prosecution, "[f]or others, fear of arrest trumped fears of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy." Most women said "they were afraid to carry the number of condoms they needed," and about 5% reported having "unprotected sex with clients as a result," McLemore adds.
It is not official policy for police officers to confiscate condoms or for prosecutors to enter them as evidence, McLemore writes. "An act of the legislature (like one bill pending in the New York State Assembly) or even a directive from a police chief or district attorney could end the practice immediately," she argues, adding, "Law enforcement efforts should not interfere with the right of anyone, including sex workers, to protect his or her own health" (McLemore, New York Times, 7/15).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership