In a startling bit of irony, New Orleans both passes out free condoms to sex workers to promote public health and also arrest people who have them as prostitutes. According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, the fight against HIV and AIDS in Louisiana is being lost because of inconsistent policies regarding sex work and harshly consistent policies regarding illegal drug abuse. New Orleans has the third-highest instance of HIV and AIDS infection in the U.S.
In Louisiana, non-medical syringes are illegal and most efforts for needle-exchange are criminalized and driven underground, which contributes to this problem. However, New Orleans has free condom distribution that is explicitly meant to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, according to Reason, “condom crackdowns, along with vague loitering laws” are used to arrest anyone on the grounds of suspicion of prostitution.
New Orleans isn’t the only city doing this, however. Condom-profiling has been reported in many cities such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York. A report from VICE tells the story of nurse and grandmother Monica Gonzalez, who was arrested on the way to the hospital while suffering an asthma attack. Later, charges were dropped because Monica hadn’t even had a condom in her possession.
The New York state legislature has a bill, versions of which have been stuck in committee for years, which addresses this very issue. The law would ban condoms as evidence for a variety of prostitution charges, including “maintaining a bawdy house.” As of January 8, 2104, the bill officially “died” in the Senate.
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As it stands, this practice has caused many sex workers to forgo condoms altogether. Also shocking is how this policy leads to harassment of women wearing a certain style of clothing and the transgendered. With Piers Morgan and trans activist Janet Mock in the news for a petulant tiff over terminology, this sort of trans harassment is being ignored.