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Testimony on Resolution 710-A regarding the prohibition of condoms from being used as evidence of prostitution-related offenses

The New York City Council Committee on Civil Rights and the Committee on Immigration Regarding Resolution 710-A calling on the enactment of A.2736/S.1379 which would prohibit possession of a condom from being used as evidence of prostitution-related offenses

My name is Socheatta Meng, and I am Legislative Counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union (“NYCLU”). I would like to thank the Committee on Civil Rights and the Committee on Immigration for inviting the NYCLU to provide testimony today on Resolution 710-A. This Resolution supports state legislation that would prohibit the possession of condoms from being used as evidence in prostitution-related offenses.

The NYCLU, the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization with eight offices across the state, and nearly 50,000 members. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York.

Resolution 710-A urges this state’s legislators to fix an inconsistency in New York public policy that places the health of New Yorkers at risk. Currently, New York State law permits the possession of condoms to be used as evidence of prostitution-related offenses. This policy discourages New Yorkers from carrying – and thus using – condoms, thereby undermining public health efforts to reduce the rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and unwanted pregnancies. By prohibiting condoms from being used as evidence of prostitution-related offenses, A.2736 (Clark)/S.1379 (Montgomery) would remove this existing anomaly, thereby encouraging New Yorkers to protect their health.

New York’s current policy undermines consistent city and state-wide efforts to promote safe sex practices through the distribution of condoms. Each year, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene alone distributes approximately 40 million free condoms through its New York City Condom Campaign. In a place such as New York City, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, such public health campaigns are critical to helping New Yorkers protect their health. In New York City, more than 110,000 persons live with HIV, and the rate of AIDS is three times the national average. Allowing New Yorkers to carry – and thus use condoms – without the fear that they will be used as evidence against them is critical to combating HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections.

Yet, because condom possession can be used as evidence of a crime, New Yorkers, particularly those profiled by police as being sex workers, report that they either hesitate to or outright refuse to carry condoms. This is contrary to a sound public health policy, and jeopardizes the health of the public. And in the case of persons who are routinely stopped by the police – LGBT and transgender persons, persons of color, and young persons – this policy is especially harmful. Because these persons are more likely to be stopped by the police, they are more likely to hesitate to carry condoms, thereby jeopardizing their health and safety.

Furthermore, existing policy puts persons who are regularly profiled by the police – LGBT and transgender persons, persons of color, and young persons – at further risk of criminal suspicion. Because condoms can be used as evidence of criminal activity, police officers may be more likely to arrest someone upon finding a condom than if a condom had not been found – even though it is a lawful and commonly carried item. For individuals who are regularly profiled, this means that they are more likely to be stopped and arrested simply because they have a condom in their possession.

The importance of A.2736/S.1379, and Resolution 710-A in support of it, cannot be overstated. New Yorkers need this legislation so that they can protect their health without the fear of being penalized for carrying a completely lawful object. This is also the case for persons who are coerced into the sex trade; because traffickers commonly restrict or deny their victims access to condoms as a form of “manipulation and control,” it is critical that legislation protect the ability of all persons, including persons coerced into the sex trade, to use condoms and protect their health and safety.

The New York Civil Liberties Union urges the City Council to pass Resolution 710-A, thereby impressing upon our state legislators the importance of passing A.2736/S.1379. New Yorkers need this legislation. It is good public health policy. And it is also common sense.

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