DC Prostitution-Free Zone and condoms

12Jan10

Several blogs have been covering the “breaking” story about DC’s PFZ and how three or more condoms are evidence for a prostitution arrest. While I’m glad to see a conversation starting about the horrible things some cops do in order to arrest suspected prostitutes, I’d also like to point out that sex workers and our allies have been talking about this for a while. (The law is kind of really most of what we talk about.) For example, Melissa Gira Grant wrote about DC’s PFZ for the inauguration on Bound, Not Gagged. A year ago.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m a little too overwhelmed by the vast wastelands of the internets to hunt down the origins of this recent interest in DC’s PFZ. It seems to be this RH Reality Check blog. Out of a lengthy, well-written article about the problems of police harassment of street workers, there’s this sentence:

Anecdotal evidence suggests that having three or more condoms is considered a proxy for being a sex worker.

And somehow, it seems, this sentence is the shot heard ’round the (blogging) world.

Why am I concerned about the spin this story is getting? Well, because the focus is more, it seems, on this anecdotal evidence (which is not uncommon or limited to DC) than on the general atmosphere of police brutality against sex workers based on prostitution laws.

Some of the outcry I’ve seen is conversation about how carrying three or more condoms is just standard for a lot of women. Here’s the thing: unless you look like a cop’s stereotype of a prostitute and you are hanging out where street work is known to happen, you’re not the target. Hell, I am a sex worker, and I’m not the target, either. Street workers, who are generally women of color, are the targets.

This is a ridiculous standard. But in general, the issue is how laws are applied by the police against street workers, not which specific instances merit blogging. I’m not going to stop carrying condoms because I know I’m much less of a target, as a white, middle class, indoor worker. But that’s because, in general, I’m less of a target.

Here’s how the prostitution arrest system works, from one whore to the blogosphere: the police go after the low-hanging fruit who are most likely to not fight the charges. Condoms are not enough to take to court if you go to court on a prostitution charge. But an arrest is enough to scare or coerce a person who can’t afford to fight back into copping to a charge.

If you are a worker (or anyone) worried about arrest for prostitution, I encourage you to make an arrest plan using an emergency response worksheet.  Know what to do if arrested.

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2 Responses to “DC Prostitution-Free Zone and condoms”

  1. 1 FW

    Great advice 🙂

    I hadn’t realized this stuff was in the news-news… I mean I think I read about it just earlier today, but I’m always reading about that stuff anyway, and didn’t realize it was, well, news-news 🙂


  1. 1 Interesting posts, weekend of 1/16/10 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction

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