When she worked the streets, Yvette Gonzales said, she frequently saw other prostitutes working without condoms. But they were not having unprotected sex at the request of their customers.
Often, Ms. Gonzales said, the police would confiscate condoms when making a prostitution arrest so they could be used as evidence. And as soon as the prostitutes were released from jail, she said, they would go right back to work without protection; or refrain from carrying condoms at all, for fear of being arrested.
“It breaks my heart,” said Ms. Gonzales, who now works for a nonprofit group, the Positive Health Project, that counsels prostitutes, tests them for infection and provides them with free condoms. “The police need to understand: Don’t take their condoms. You’re taking someone’s health from them.”
Assemblywoman Barbara M. Clark, Democrat of Queens, and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Democrat of Brooklyn, have sponsored a bill to keep the possession of condoms from being used in criminal court as evidence of prostitution. The bill was first introduced in 1999 and has been re-introduced every year since, but has consistently died in committee. This year, its backers express optimism.
“Now there’s more support,” said Sienna Baskin, the co-director of the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. She cites the New York Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Public Health Association of New York City as some of the organizations that have been compiling research to convince lawmakers. In July, both Human Rights Watch, which is working on a national study of the issue, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which is compiling an international study, will release their reports.