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District of Columbia Police Department Clarifies Condom Policy

March 15, 2013


In July 2012, just prior to the International AIDS Conference hosted by Washington, D.C., Human Rights Watch released "Sex Workers at Risk: Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Four US Cities." The report details concerns that police, with the support of prosecutors, were using condoms to justify the stop, search, and arrest of sex workers on prostitution charges. Using condoms as evidence creates incentives for people who may be highly at risk for HIV to abandon condoms and regular condom use. From a health policy perspective, such an outcome is disastrous since it increases the likelihood of new infections. Although some of the city's officials protested the findings, stating that such arrests were against policy, Human Rights Watch interviewed 40 people and received numerous reports that condoms were being used in this way.

As a result of the report, AIDS United and AIDS United grantees HIPS and The Women's Collective, along with Human Rights Watch, D.C. Appleseed and the D.C. Trans Coalition, met with several city officials, including Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Paul Quander; Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Cathy Lanier; and Dr. Gregory Pappas, Senior Deputy Director at the D.C. Department of Health, who is responsible for HIV/AIDS issues in the city. As a result of the meeting and in order to clarify Washington, D.C.'s policy on condoms, Chief Lanier agreed to distribute cards that note MPD's support for the distribution of condoms to prevent HIV, that people may carry as many condoms as they want and that possession of condoms is not a reason to conduct a search. Advocates were extremely pleased by this clarification of policy and issued a press release detailing the change. In addition, MPD has announced the use of the cards during their morning roll calls.

The cards, which feature a row of colorful condoms and the MPD logo are an attractive and innovative way of spreading the news to both individual police officers and members of the community that condoms may not be used as grounds for a search. They additionally provide information about how to make a complaint if there is a violation of this rule. The coalition thanked the officials involved for their willingness to clarify the policy and will continue to seek improvements in HIV prevention for sex workers and others in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

The card issued by the MPD can be viewed here.

This article was provided by AIDS United. It is a part of the publication AIDS United Policy Update. Visit AIDS United's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
More HIV Prevention Policy News on Mid-Atlantic U.S. States

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