D.C. cops accused of confiscating prostitutes' condoms

Local,Crime,Naomi Jagoda

D.C. police have targeted condom possession during stops of suspected prostitutes and confiscated condoms on some occasions, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday.

Megan McLemore, a researcher with the human rights group, said the organization found police interference with condoms in six of the seven D.C. police districts.

"It's not happening every day, but it's happening on a regular basis," she said.

Because of police behavior, prostitutes said that they carried fewer condoms than they might need out of a fear of being arrested, said Human Rights Watch advocacy director Rebecca Schleifer. As a result, the report said, the prostitutes are putting themselves at a greater risk for getting HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases.

Current and former prostitutes told Human Rights Watch that, during police stops, officers have asked them why they are carrying many condoms.

At least one person asked the organization how many condoms it is legal to carry, and some prostitutes spoke of a "three-condom rule" ??-- that, according to the myth, you can be arrested in the District if you have more than three condoms with you. Several prostitutes said that police have confiscated their condoms, McLemore said.

"The cops harassed me and told me to throw my condoms in the garbage. I told them 'No, I am not throwing them in the garbage! I don't want to die,'" a sex worker in Columbia Heights told Human Rights Watch.

Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham told The Washington Examiner that this report is the first time these allegations have been brought to D.C. police. The examples mentioned in the report would signal improper police conduct, Newsham said, and victims of this type of police behavior should report it to police internal affairs or the independent Office of Police Complaints.

Condoms could be seized as evidence, he said, but they would be more useful as evidence in massage parlor or brothel cases as opposed to street prostitution cases.

"The seizure of condoms in prostitution cases is rare," Newsham said.

He also said that there's no limit on condom possession and that the police department supports city efforts to distribute condoms to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

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