Carrying Condoms Is Evidence of What, Precisely?

Debbie says:

Before I get to the point, let me give you a treat from the amazing Molly Crabapple, whose article I’m going to write about in a moment.

Now, back to Body Impolitic. (I only knew Crabapple as an artist before I found this post.) Condoms, it appears, are “legitimate” evidence for sexual wrongdoing in New York City. Crabapple’s writes largely about how arrests for condom possession target sex workers, and people likely to be mistaken for sex workers, which includes all trans women and most or all people of color. Since Laurie and I just recently dug into that territory, and created somewhat of an Internet storm on Feministe, I’ll leave that aspect to Crabapple for the moment. Read the whole post.

I’m deeply disturbed that the cops believe they can have any interest at all in whether or not anyone is carrying condoms. In the cartoon illustrating her post, Crabapple names condoms as “sexual paraphernalia.” Well, yes, at least if you’re not using them as balloons, or fingerpainting devices, both of which I’ve seen done.

The last time I looked:

  • Sex was legal;
  • Condoms were not only legal, but for sale in every drugstore;
  • Pregnancy was a known risk of penis-in-vagina male/female sex, which condoms were specifically designed to prevent.
  • AIDS was a known risk of many kinds of sex, which condoms had been shown to reduce.
  • Sex education programs, formal and informal, recommended condom use in a wide variety of situations.

So using condom possession as evidence of illegal (or potentially illegal) behavior doesn’t seem any different to me than saying “I am arresting you because you have money, and you might use this money to engage in illegal gambling. After all, you were standing near a building where people have been arrested for illegal gambling in the past, and you’re dressed like a gambler.” (Most of the gamblers I know wear t-shirts and blue jeans, and are indistinguishable from, say, computer programmers. Some of them are the same people. Other gamblers wear polo shirts and sweat pants and are indistinguishable from tourists at the beach. Some of them are the same people.)

I do know that we don’t live in a free country. We never have, and this is one of the times when we are less free. Even so, I balk at anyone being arrested for carrying a legal, useful, and practical object.  New York’s Finest should be ashamed of themselves. But you know they aren’t. Some folks are fighting back.

2 thoughts on “Carrying Condoms Is Evidence of What, Precisely?

  1. One other bit worth mentioning here: like quite a few other New Yorkers, I have (and sometimes carry) condoms with a “NYC” logo, which are distributed free by the city Department of Health. You can scoop them out of a bowl at a free vaccine clinic, at a bar, at a counter of a charity bookshop…

    This may not legally count as entrapment, but morally and philosophically it is: I don’t see anything stopping them from arresting someone on their way home from one of those distribution points, for having city-provided condoms on their person. I can carry condoms when I’m not on my way home from where I got them; I can’t take them home without carrying them.

    1. Damn, I wish I’d thought to include that in the piece. (I didn’t know there were NYC-provided condoms, but I for sure knew about free condom distribution in general.) Thanks!

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