New York City, that charming bastion of tolerance, apparently believes that if a woman is carrying condoms, that can be evidence that she is a prostitute. If a police officer thinks you look like a whore — watch out. A single Trojan might be enough to ensure your arrest.
Or if you're not carrying condoms but the police still think you're a sex worker, they might just plant one on you anyway, as Molly Crabapple reports at Vice:
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn't know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and grandmother. In 2008, officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But [even] if the condom was real, why should she have been arrested at all?
Arrest is always violent. The NYPD may or may not break your ribs but the process of arrest in America is still a man tying your hands behind your back at gunpoint and locking you in a cage. Holding cells are shit-encrusted boxes, often too crowded to sit down. Police can leave you there for three days; long enough to lose your job. If this seems obvious, I say it because the polite middle classes trivialize arrest. They talk about "keeping people off the streets." They don't realize that the constant threat of arrest is traumatic, unless it happens to them or their kids.
Carrying condoms is not illegal in New York or any state. But if a police officer profiles you as a potential prostitute — if you're wearing the wrong thing, walking in the wrong neighborhood, talking to the wrong person, have the wrong gender identity or the wrong sexual orientation, if your skin is the wrong color, if you're carrying the wrong amount of cash in the wrong place or you have the wrong attitude — possession of condoms can lead to your arrest. Your condoms can be confiscated and used in court as evidence of your guilt. Prostitution and loitering for prostitution are only misdemeanor offenses in New York, but they are highly stigmatizing. Employers discriminate against people who have been convicted — or even just arrested — for prostitution. A conviction makes you ineligible for food stamps and will get you kicked out of Section 8 housing. Most people charged take a plea bargain. Condoms are sometimes the only "evidence" against them.
There are many instances of non-sex workers being mistakenly profiled, and even arrested for prostitution offenses, because of their race, dress, or gender identity. (Trans women seem to have it the worst: 59% have been stopped by the police, and there are numerous examples of trans women who have been arrested for prostitution after police refused to believe that their boyfriends were boyfriends, not clients.) An arrest under such circumstances is obviously traumatic and unfair. But it is sex workers who are left in a uniquely vulnerable position by this policy of using condoms as evidence. Do they carry condoms, knowing that if they are searched, a condom may be the difference between a warning and an arrest and charge? Or do they not carry condoms, knowing that their health and the health of their clients is consequently at risk?
Carrying condoms can also be considered "evidence" of prostitution in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and other United States cities. Internationally, the police harassment and arrest of suspected prostitutes found to be carrying condoms has been reported in the U.S., Russia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa.