Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco) (04.11.13)
George Gascón, San Francisco’s district attorney (DA), has agreed to a permanent ban on the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution. He notified Theresa Sparks, executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission, of this decision in a letter dated March 30, which stated that prosecutors will no longer use condoms as physical evidence in criminal prostitution cases. Jeff Adachi, public defender, agreed that it is a good policy that police and prosecutors will no longer treat carrying condoms as evidence of prostitution. This letter ended a temporary ban on collecting or photographing condoms in cases of suspected prostitution or of discussing them in court, which was in effect since October and had been extended for another three months in January while Gascón examined the issue.
Sex worker advocates, public health officials, and others were concerned that using condoms as evidence of prostitution discouraged people from carrying them and thus placing individuals at greater risk of HIV and other STDs. In his letter, Gascón referred to the need to balance health and safety issues. He acknowledged that concerns raised in two meetings with the Human Rights Commission have persuaded him that police seizure and trial prosecution using condoms as evidence make it less likely that sex workers will carry and use condoms to protect themselves. After six months of evaluating police arrests and the case outcomes, Gascón felt confident that the public safety concerns can be addressed without risking sex workers’ health.
Sparks referred to the agreement between the DA and public defender as a huge advancement. She was happy that the victims’ rights have been placed before law enforcement and commented that officials needed to remind people that many in the sex industry are victims who should receive the option of protection while participating in these activities. Sparks stated that the next step was to get the message to the community so that individuals understood that the change is real as well as their rights. A meeting with advocates and city agents is planned to determine how to spread awareness of the new policy. Sparks noted that her staff, representatives from the city’s health department and the nonprofit St. James Infirmary all participated in the effort to address the condom issue.