New Yorkers ask cops to stop confiscating condoms

Clara Sierra served 10 days in Rikers after cops accused her of being a prostitute. Credit: Bess Adler.
Clara Sierra was in Rikers for 10 days after cops accused her of being a prostitute. Credit: Bess Adler.

Clara Sierra was leaving a club after a nice night out when cops accused her of being a prostitute.

Sierra, 40, said she was trying to find her way back to New Jersey after leaving a Manhattan club when cops approached.

They assumed she was a prostitute, she said, and were sure their assumptions were confirmed when they found two condoms inside her bra.

“I was trying to show him my wristband” from the club to prove her whereabouts, she told Metro. “I was lost in the Meatpacking District trying to find the train station.”

She added, “I was the drunk one. They were the belligerent ones.”

Sierra was in Rikers for 10 days.

Advocates say too many New Yorkers land in jail after cops confiscate condoms. Some are people like Sierra. Many transgender people in particular report that cops assume they are sex workers.

And despite one’s reasons for walking on a sidewalk, everyone should practice safe sex, especially people who actually are prostitutes, advocates say. The Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project said half of people surveyed had left condoms at home for fear of police.

Sierra is one of the people pushing Albany this week to approve legislation barring condoms as prostitution evidence. Supporters of the No Condoms as Evidence Bill say taking away condoms poses a public health threat and a waste of the roughly 40 million condoms given out by the state each year.

“It is a waste of money and a shame that the Health Department gives out condoms and the police take them away and destroy them,” said Sierra, a peer educator at New York Harm Reduction Educators, which helps sex workers. “Condoms aren’t something that is illegal.”

In Long Island, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice banned using condoms as evidence, saying the public health impact of losing condoms was not worth a “limited courtroom gain.”

Many say they were accused of prostitution during police stops when cops found them carrying condoms.

Xiona Geovane, 35, told Metro that two weeks ago on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, cops accused her and a friend of prostitution. They arrested them after finding condoms in her friend’s purse, she said, and they both spent the weekend in jail.

Transgender people in Queens have repeatedly told Councilman Daniel Dromm similar stories, he told Metro, using any condoms they may have as evidence.

“They feel like they are the law and whatever anyone else, the transgender girls, say is all lies,” Geovane told Metro. “I shouldn’t be afraid to be walking with condoms.”

The NYPD defended using condoms as evidence, saying it helps nab pimps.

“We do not understand why anyone would want to ban the use of condoms in helping to prove cases against pimps and sex traffickers and to shut down brothels,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told Metro. “That’s what the bill sought by these advocates in fact does, and that’s why we oppose it.”

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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