Annals of Stupidity (Sex in America Edition)

Via the Guardian, we learn of the latest act of stupidity in America’s war on sex:

The International Aids conference, held in the US for the first time in 22 years next week, is a chance for the country to celebrate its contribution to HIV and Aids prevention. Yet in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, state police forces are stopping, searching and arresting sex workers – and using condoms found on them as evidence to support prostitution charges, undermining decades of HIV and Aids harm reduction work in the process.

Via the Human Rights Watch report that forms the basis of the Guardian piece we learn this:

Police use of condoms as evidence of prostitution has the same effect everywhere: despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Carrying guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition around town? No problem.  A couple of dozen condoms? Call out the guards!

File this under WASF.

PS:  If you want to read a clear-headed account of sex-work, HIV, and appropriate public health responses, see my friend Elizabeth Pisani’s excellent The Wisdom of Whores. (Go to the right hand column of the website.)  As Elizabeth regularly notes, condoms are hardly a perfect barrier to STD infection, HIV in particular, not least because in real life it turns out to be hard to persuade oneself/one’s partner to use them as needed every time they are needed. That said, condoms from an essential component of a sex-worker’s ability to take direct action on her or his own behalf as she or he goes about a working day (or night).  Creating barriers to their use is both stupid as a public health measure and an unacceptable — I would say, un-American — infringement on an individual’s right and duty to take care of oneself.

Bonus: Video via Elizabeth’s site from condom maker DKT’s home video collection:

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(Translation of the caption at the end:  “With a year’s supply of free condoms, any place is the right place.”)

Cross posted at Inverse Square

Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The ladies in the brothel dining-room, 1893

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26 replies
  1. 1
    Mnemosyne says:

    Argh. Police in the Los Angeles area were having a fair amount of success in reducing street prostitution by arresting johns and doing sting operations, but I guess arresting the actual workers is easier and less expensive.

    Reducing street prostitution is like reducing any other kind of illegal work — you ain’t gonna make a dent unless you reduce the demand, because there will always be a supply of workers. But we can’t figure that out with other kinds of illegal workers, either, apparently, since we spend more time on arresting workers than we do on closing down the companies that hire those workers.

  2. 2

    The puritan sexual ethic in this country causes so much harm. Unfortunately, we are a long, long way from recognizing that sex is not evil or degrading or contemptible. Only how we treat each other over it is.

  3. 3
    jayjaybear says:

    @Mnemosyne: Easier, less expensive, and less embarrassing to possibly influential or ‘pillar-of-the-community’ johns.

  4. 4
    Joey Maloney says:

    You’re never going to reduce the demand for street prostitution, not without imprisoning and/or castrating the entire male population.

  5. 5
    Nutella says:

    Guns, ammo, body armor: It’s a completely unacceptable attack on individual freedom to restrict those in any way. Costumes, condoms, joints: Must be restricted for our own good.

  6. 6
    Schlemizel says:

    The war on prostitution in the US has been progressing quite well for several hundred years (exempting such immoral hell-holes as New Orleans and Las Vegas). I am sure we are winning, I see the light at the end of the tunnel, now is not the time to cut and run. As long as it is illegal and we make the occasional arrest of participants I am sure everything will be just fine.

    With that out of the way we can complete the war on drugs

  7. 7
    quannlace says:

    Think of the Hollywood rating system.
    Guns, mass explosions, obscene violence. Rated PG
    Two people in bed? Aaah! Rated R

  8. 8

    Large portions of Europe find our rating system freakishly backward in that regard – or so I am told.

  9. 9
    Nutella says:


    Easier, less expensive, and less embarrassing to possibly influential or ‘pillar-of-the-community’ johns.

    Chicago police once did a major sting that was very effective in the ‘war on drugs’: They watched the drive-up street drug market in a poor neighborhood of the city and busted the customers as they drove away. They also informed the owners of the customers’ cars that their cars had been used in a drug deal and could have been confiscated.

    All of the buyers were from outside the poor neighborhood. Many of them were from the suburbs. Some of them were driving their parent’s or boss’s cars.

    It was excellent police work and they should do more of it to keep demand down but that was 5-10 years ago and has never been repeated.

    Because ‘decent’, middle-class people were busted. The PTB prefer to have the sellers and their unfortunate neighbors in poor areas suffer for the drug war and leave the buyers alone.

  10. 10
    jwb says:

    @Mnemosyne: If you arrest a John, you might arrest someone important and cause headaches. That’s not going to happen if you just arrest the prostitutes.

    ETA: Also what jayjaybear said.

  11. 11
    MonkeyBoy says:

    It has been common in some places for the police to only arrest the nastier looking, more aggressive, more desperate prostitutes while leaving the more professional (who might pay them protection) alone.

    I wonder how much “condom possession” is one of those selectively enforced criteria which is used as legal justification for getting someone out of circulation those that they feel shouldn’t circulate.

  12. 12
    Shalimar says:

    @Schlemizel: The WAR ON DRUGS is my favorite. It makes all those pain pills I get from my doctor much more valuable on the open market.

  13. 13
    Carl Nyberg says:

    What kind of fuck-ups sit as judges and accept possession of condoms as evidence of illegal sex work?

    We are ruled by immoral fools.

  14. 14
    brent says:

    I am completely perplexed by the idea that a condom is probative evidence of being a sex worker. Carrying a condom really isn’t even evidence of a desire to have sex let alone to have someone pay you for sex. Is carrying a gun evidence that I am a hired killer? I really don’t see how that could seriously be offered as an argument in a court of law.

  15. 15
    Mnemosyne says:


    That doesn’t seem to have a been the big problem with it — my friend’s cousin was a sheriff’s deputy who used to work the stings.

    I’m guessing that it’s more that arresting the prostitutes themselves is a revenue stream and with budgets the way they are in California, it makes far more financial sense to arrest the prostitutes over and over again (and have them pay the necessary fines over and over again) than to spend the extra money it costs to run a sting operation that requires surveillance equipment, a decoy, and a team of officers as back-up.

    Why, yes, I am saying that it’s more profitable for the cops to arrest the hookers than to spend the extra money it costs to arrest the johns. It’s like setting up a speed trap, only the speeders are the girls working the street corner.

  16. 16
    The Snarxist Formerly Known As Kryptik says:

    Newest line of attack from the Abstinence-only crowd:


    I’m joking now, but the way things have been, I fully expect someone to use this line of attack earnestly soon…

  17. 17
    Mino says:

    It’s really instructive to see the media types taunting Democratic leaders about gun legislation. Even MSNBC.

    Why don’t hey ask Mitt to lead on this since it’s such a teabag issue. Guess they can’t get a press conference with him.

  18. 18
    Mino says:

    @Mnemosyne: Revenue stream–that’s yer answer rite ther.

  19. 19
    MonkeyBoy says:


    I am completely perplexed by the idea that a condom is probative evidence of being a sex worker.

    Ummm, I don’t think is is for possessing 1 condom but maybe 2 dozen. Sorta like laws where drug possession above a certain amount automatically becomes “intent to sell”.

  20. 20
    Hypatia's Momma says:


    As Elizabeth regularly notes, condoms are hardly a perfect barrier to STD infection, HIV in particular, not least because in real life it turns out to be hard to persuade oneself/one’s partner to use them as needed every time they are needed.

    Non-compliance doesn’t mean the efficacy of condoms per se in preventing infection is reduced.

  21. 21
    brent says:

    @MonkeyBoy: If possession of condoms was itself illegal and the thing being prosecuted, I could see a case where having more rather than less could reasonably be considered a more serious crime. But that is not the case here.

    There is nothing illegal about having one condom or 100. The possession of condoms can’t be prosecuted at any level. Instead, it is being used as evidence of another crime entirely. IF the crime has been committed, then the police will either have reasonable evidence of solicitation or an exchange of cash or whatever. Things that actually count as evidence and establishes the case. The amount of condoms being carried is, at best, a superfluous detail in that context.

    But if they don’t have that evidence, I can’t see how any amount of condoms demonstrates anything at all about whether a crime has been committed.

  22. 22
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Meanwhile, banksters are stealing money from people left and right and the police force cannot be bothered to do jack shit about it.

  23. 23
    Constance Reader says:

    @brent: And no doubt the cops are busting and equal number of men who are carrying condoms. Right?


  24. 24
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @jayjaybear: Brings to mind an quote from “The Sting” when Lt. Snyder talks to Billie — the madame who is running a brothel — while trying to track down Johnny Hooker

    Billie: Who told you this guy was in here?
    Lieutenant William Snyder: Nobody. I just know what kind of woman he likes. Going to check all the joy houses till I find him.
    Billie: Oh, well maybe I could help you, if you tell me his name.
    Lieutenant William Snyder: I doubt it. Which way are the rooms?
    Billie: Right through there. But I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.
    Lieutenant William Snyder: What you are going to do, call the cops?
    Billie: I don’t have to. You’d be busting in on the Chief of Police just up the hall.

  25. 25
    Another Halocene Human says:

    With all the advances in rights for middle class gays (SSM–upper class gays mostly were taken care of anyway), at-risk youth in the cities, many of them so-called “throwaways”, ie minor youth who have been kicked out of their homes by parents or guardians, are the forgotten children. They are at high risk of HIV infection, substance abuse, prostitution, and homicide.

    And nobody gives a shit.

  26. 26

    you cant blame all the prostitutes..that’s their own way to make a living..

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