Condoms As Evidence Update

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For the past 7 years, St. James Infirmary has been attempting to raise awareness about the use of condoms as evidence for prostitution in San Francisco.  We have been urging the City (SFPD and District Attorneys office) to end this harmful practice.   We have been actively distributing a position paper (seen in an earlier post)

The routine use of condoms as a tool to violate our basic human right to protect ourselves from HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as prevent unwanted pregnancies, is unjust and counter to sound public health.  The Human Rights Watch released a report chronicling this absurd practice in four cities:  New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

As well, the Bay Area Reporter published several articles discussing the issue in San Francisco, one article highlighting how difficult it is for sex worker rights activists to advocate for change when various officials are completely ignorant about the practices occurring in their own departments and the other article discussing the SFPDs department-wide bulletin denouncing the confiscation of unused condoms as evidence.

Thanks to the help of the Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch, the SFPD and SF District Attorneys office has agreed to not use condoms as evidence for a trial period of 3-6 months.  We are hopeful that this evaluation period will lead to City wide policy change on a permanent level.

Last month St. James Infirmary along with Human Rights Watch and the Harm Reduction Coalition met with State Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office to ask that a statement be issued by the AG condoning the practice of criminalizing condoms by using them as evidence by police and in court cases throughout the State.  We were denied this letter by Kamala Harris’s office at this time.  The AG would not agree because they still want the option to use condoms as evidence of sex trafficking.  Our position is that the practice of using condoms as evidence in sex trafficking cases will actually increase the risk of trafficked victims to exposure to HIV and STIs along with unwanted pregnancy. Our position is to protect victims first, worry about prosecution secondary and with use of other evidence.

In Nassau County, the District Attorney has issued a mandate that prosecutors not use condoms as evidence of prostitution or in trafficking cases.  In San Francisco and New York the Police and DA recognize that criminalizing condoms is bad for everyone, including trafficked victims.  We are glad that our City and NYC is prioritizing protecting victims over prosecution numbers.  We ask that the State Attorney General’s Office do the same.

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