California Senate Bill 233, which went into effect in January 2020, ensures that the possession of condoms or HIV prophylactics cannot be used as evidence to arrest or prosecute a person for sex work.
However, a new study of people engaged in sex work in Los Angeles County from the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds that 80% of respondents were unaware of the law. In addition, about 80% carried condoms while working despite the perceived risk of criminalization.
Researchers interviewed 25 adults about their experiences in sex work, including interactions with law enforcement, sexual risk behaviors, and condom-carrying practices. Respondents reported learning about the risk of carrying condoms from their own interactions with law enforcement and from their peers engaged in sex work.
While a few respondents said they avoided carrying condoms due to their concerns about police interactions, the majority still carried condoms as a way to resist police control and to protect their health, the health of their clients, community, and colleagues in sex work.
“Most of the people surveyed were aware of being targeted for sex work by law enforcement if they carried condoms at a time when condoms could no longer be used as evidence,” said lead author Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, Co-Director of the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “This study highlights the need for interventions that raise awareness of the legal rights of people engaged in sex work and oversight of SB233 implementation among California police officers.”
“People engaged in sex work report that much of the knowledge they have about the risks of carrying condoms came from members of their community,” said study author Bianca D.M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “It is important that people engaged in sex work lead interventions, advocacy, and outreach efforts to ensure that accurate and current information is disseminated.”
This project was made possible by support from Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles (SWOPLA) and East LA Women’s Center. Support was also provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s Health and Unique Woman’s Coalition.