According to a post in change.org’s Women’s Rights blog, DC police officers can arrest prostitution suspects in areas that are declared “Prostitution Free Zones.” Seems reasonable enough, right?
Apparently, cops in the District consider carrying 3 or more condoms to be proof of intent to sell sex. That’s right – you can be legally accused of prostitution in our nation’s capital if you just picked up a 3-pack of Trojans from the CVS on E Street.
I understand why governments have an interest in banning prostitution, regardless of whether you consider it a moral issue. For the preservation of public health, it’s important to place serious restrictions on sex workers to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In the era of AIDS, this has only become more important.
Here comes the public service announcement part of the blog post, but it’s relevant to my point: One in twenty people in the District of Columbia has HIV. DC also has the highest rate of new AIDS cases in the nation. And up to one-third of the one million Americans living with HIV do not know that they are HIV positive. (These facts are from Whitman-Walker Clinic.)
So what do these facts mean, when we consider the costs of carrying condoms in DC? These cops are encouraging sex workers in the center of the American HIV epidemic to not carry protection. In order to crack down on prostitution, which is criminalized (in part) because of its public health risks, DC is risking the health of its residents by using safe sex as proof of sex work.
Not only is it completely offensive that planning on having sex three times in the indefinite future apparently makes you a hooker, it also encourages exactly the type of dangerous behavior that anti-prostitution laws are supposed to prevent. I think there’s also an extreme-right, abstinence-only education vibe to it: Having protected sex means you’re having sex for pleasure, not procreation. And having sex for pleasure makes you a whore.
I’m not saying we should legalize prostitution, but if the government could keep a closer eye on sex workers, perhaps our law enforcers could make prostitutes more likely to use protection, and therefore less likely to worsen DC’s already horrifc epidemic. Instead, we’re relying on the illogical practices of our nation’s capital, which are much more likely to spread HIV than prevent it.
Just remember: If you were considering finding a prostitute in DC this weekend for some pre-semester shenanigans, you might want to bring your own condoms, since the government is encouraging prostitutes to not carry them. And if you’re en route to Thurston for the same sort of fun, be sure to either hide your condoms, or watch how you dress, because in your stereotypically GW shirt-without-pants outfit, UPD just might accuse you of prostitution.