Condoms Are Not Evidence
This spring, North Star Fund grantee Streetwise and Safe (SAS) co-hosted a forum with District Attorney Cy Vance where LGBTQQ youth from organizations like the Hetrick-Martin Institute, Streetwork, the Ali Forney Center, and Callen-Lorde's HOTT program had a chance to speak directly to Manhattan's chief law enforcer and his staff about issues that matter to them. Police and prosecutors' practice of using condoms as evidence of intent to engage in prostitution-related offenses in criminal cases topped the agenda. Here's what two SAS members had to say about it:
Streetwise and Safe has been a North Star Fund grantee since 2010.
Chris B.: It's not often that I have the captive attention of a district attorney unless I've fallen asleep again with Law and Order on in the background. But a few months ago, my organization Streetwise and Safe was one of a handful of organizations working with LGBT youth that held court with Manhattan District attorney Cy Vance. We were rightfully alarmed about his office's misguided practice of using condoms, which the city spends millions to saturate the city with, as evidence against sex workers, in often flimsy cases.
This catch 22 always struck me as disingenuous in a city with one of the highest HIV infection rates, where almost every surface is plastered with AIDS prevention posters, where it's hard not to step on trademark NYC condoms that are as common as abandoned McDonald's cups.
How can something so commonplace and sponsored by the city health department to save lives, end up inadvertently destroying those lives? That's the question I raised with Mr. Vance's office. I have yet to hear a satisfactory response or see an actual policy change - or even the facade of one. This fall, SAS will be stepping up the pressure to stop this practice!
Peter G.: The act of using condoms as evidence of engagement in prostitution is unfair and unsafe. Many New Yorkers carry condoms for many different reasons. This year I met with a representative of my community, Senator Adriano Espaillat, to introduce him to effects of this practice and share with him how many organizations support the use of condoms and provide them to young New Yorkers. We also met with our Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and presented him with petitions signed by people across New York City, from northern Manhattan to Harlem, and from Queens to Brooklyn.
As a member of Streetwise and Safe, I reached out to my community to get these petitions signed. When I brought them to my high school, students agreed that condoms shouldn't be used against someone as evidence of prostitution and signed the petition. They also told me reasons they thought this was important: condoms decrease the chance of pregnancy and abortions, and our clinic and special programs in our school encourage us students to have safe sex providing us with special kits that of course have condoms. So students see it as an act of stereotyping when condoms are used against some people to say they did something wrong. Teachers as well were amazed and asked if they can be part of supporting change to this practice.
Around my neighborhood there were many supporters who were shocked and actually not even aware of that condoms could be used against them like this. They explained that condoms prevent the spread of infections and diseases and we should not be afraid of holding condoms. I felt really good spreading the knowledge of a law--SB 323--that could stop condoms being used against people. The experience behind all of this personally for me is an opportunity to be heard and change policies that affect your daily life. We are all from different backgrounds and lifestyles but this cause is one everyone can relate to.