The New York Police Department will significantly limit the practice of seizing condoms for use as evidence in prostitution-related cases, ending a procedure that health officials had long criticized as undermining their efforts to protect prostitutes from disease.
The change has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s five district attorneys. It allows for the continued practice of using condoms as evidence in cases involving sex trafficking.
“This is a reasonable approach to targeting the most at-risk community as it relates to safer sex practices and continuing to build strong cases against the vast criminal enterprise associated with prostitution,” the police commissioner said in a statement.
Advocates for prostitutes and public health officials have been lobbying for this type of change for years, but attempts to pass legislation have repeatedly stalled.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing the impact that the seizures were having on prostitutes in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.
It included interviews with some 200 prostitutes, many of whom told investigators that the police would stop and harass them without basis, then use the fact that they were carrying a large supply of condoms as evidence of guilt.
One prostitute quoted in the report said she resorted to using a plastic bag as protection during intercourse.
At the time, some law enforcement officials expressed concern that a sweeping policy change would limit their ability to go after more serious criminals involved in the sex trade.
The Manhattan district attorney said that the new policy struck the right balance. “I have long believed that it is possible to address the use of condoms as evidence in misdemeanor prostitution-related cases without weakening our ability to prosecute serious crimes, like sex trafficking,” he said in a statement.