New York's Condom Bait-and-Switch

Department of Health hands them out, NYPD arrests people for carrying them. Is this about improving public health—or arrest numbers?

“Politicians don’t want to appear to be supporting prostitution,” says Audacia Ray, a former sex worker and founder of the Red Umbrella Project, a support and advocacy group for sex workers in New York City. “But it’s a common-sense issue,” she says. “Vulnerable people are at risk.”

Some New York-area jurisdictions aren’t waiting for the bill to pass to direct their law enforcement and prosecution. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice read a Human Rights Watch report published last summer that looked at the issue at a national level and decided to take the matter into her own hands. In October, she prohibited the nearly 200 prosecutors in her office from using condoms as evidence of prostitution in court.

“There were a number of findings in that report that were very troubling, documenting that prostitutes were not using condoms because prosecutors were using them as evidence in cases against them,” Rice says. “Our decisions as prosecutors very often make us balance competing factors. In this instance, that equation for me involved the public health on one side and value of evidence against those charged on the other.” In July, Rice will replace Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance as president of the New York State District Attorneys Association, and she says she is confident that she can convince her colleagues to institute policies “that would obviate the need for any legislation,” which she believes will take too long to take effect. “This is very much a life-and-death policy decision,” she says. “I felt that time was of the essence.”

The New York City Department of Health's free condoms.
Kelly Schott
The New York City Department of Health's free condoms.
Emily Gogolak

Jennifer Gonzalez-Hermides now tries to avoid walking alone on Surf Avenue. She uses Internet escort websites to arrange her sex work. But she is still determined to get the free condoms that the city distributes and that she knows she has every right to obtain. “I only came here,” she says, “because I knew the van was here, and I have a ride.” She points out the door to a man, whom she calls her “new trick,” waiting for her outside. “Females will die doing this work,” says Gonzalez-Hermides, “but not me.” She starts to cry. “I will not be another statistic.” She steps out of the van, stops at the big bucket of free NYC Condoms, takes a couple of handfuls, and quickly leaves to catch her ride.

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18 comments
melissabfrank
melissabfrank

That's funny. I lived 7 years in TX. Some just north of the hill country and the rest in DFW. I went to Syracuse and work right near Dinosaur BBQ and its enjoyable but not Texas BBQ. You want good chimes you go to NY. You want good Mexican and BBQ, Texas is the spot. Excited to see what John Aviles, ex-Franklin's guy does in BK.

PeoplesPride
PeoplesPride

Peoples Pride, a lifestyle denim brand, with  condom pocket in mind .... read about it http://bit.ly/Wh5fg6 

Love to hear from you, Peoples Pride team 

frank124c
frank124c topcommenter

People who are arrested unjustly in NYC should plead "Not Guilty!" and demand a trial by jury. When people start standing up for their rights, injustice will disappear. . 

gm0622
gm0622

so, if I were to walk out of a bodega after purchasing condoms, i would be a risk of arrest? some defense attorney is going to ask that question, if it has not been asked already.

NoComment
NoComment

The Village Voice is exactly the kind of paper that Warren Buffet was in the news talking about yesterday.  A local paper that prints stories, important to locals, that no other national paper will carry.  Thank you, Village Voice.  Excellent work.

This is an incredibly important piece of journalism.  Ray Kelly should be horse-whipped for allowing such laws to taint the NYPD.  And can you please call out Christine Quinn for her part in this in a follow-up article?  Who passed these laws? If it's the City Council, I'd like to know when it passed and how long it has been going on.  It's shameful and shocking what the NYPD has become.

James Donaji
James Donaji

The article doesn't mention trans women, but the NYPD does the same to them. Gay men are also accused of "looking for sex" or something similar if they have condoms in their pockets. Thanks for the article, VV. Sharing it.

Village Voice
Village Voice

Cheers CJ - nothing wrong with keeping us on our toes.

C.j. Swarthout
C.j. Swarthout

I mean only to give constructive criticism in the interest of having one of the few credible journalistic voices appear as such. Keep up the real journalism yalls.

C.j. Swarthout
C.j. Swarthout

Ok, I've read but I still think the two above snippets are a bit reckless. It's a wonderful article and has a lot of value and isn't being reported on to the extent it should be like a lot of stuff that VV does. It just seems that the two above quotes make it seem like a conspiracy from the jump(which I'm assuming you don't believe), rather than some people conspiring to keep from stepping on NYPD's toes to the detriment of public health (which it most surely is).

Village Voice
Village Voice

If it weren't for the city report on the issue with half the sections blacked out we got our hands on, and cases being thrown out of court, we'd tend to agree - read on, friend.

C.j. Swarthout
C.j. Swarthout

I usually think the VV is a last vestige of real media journalism..., and I admittedly haven't read the article, but the above line is kinda reckless. This has way more to do with the failures of bureaucratic interaction and the douchiness of the NYPD than some kind of higher-level conspiracy.

aldarase
aldarase

@frank124c when your options are staying locked up for possibly months because you can't make bail or pleading out what would you do?

jmcarollo
jmcarollo

@NoComment I am a member of an advisory panel to the Commissioner ... in all of our meetings with him over this issue, he has made it clear that the department takes its "evidence" orders from the DA's office ... we have five in NYC ... only two have reluctantly pulled back, Manhattan and Kings ... but they have refused to put it in writing! We are making progress, and there was a press conference just this week, but the work will not end until all NY State DA's are on board. Period.

jmcarollo
jmcarollo

@C.j. SwarthoutI am a member of an advisory panel to the Commissioner ... in all of our meetings with him over this issue, he has made it clear that the department takes its "evidence" orders from the DA's office ... we have five in NYC ... only two have reluctantly pulled back, Manhattan and Kings ... but they have refused to put it in writing! We are making progress, and there was a press conference just this week, but the work will not end until all NY State DA's are on board. Period.

 
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