According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), aggressive police harassment in New Orleans is directly undermining the city’s efforts to prevent and treat HIV infections. Despite the fact that Louisiana has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the nation — in fact, the number of people dying from AIDS in the state is more than double the national average — the report claims that it “has chosen punishment over public health” for the marginalized communities at risk for infection, such as sex workers and drug users.
Specifically, law enforcement officials are cracking down on prostitution in a way that HRW believes is actually encouraging the spread of HIV. New Orleans is so intent on identifying potential sex workers that it allows cops to prosecute “loitering for prostitution,” an incredibly vague statute that results in arbitrarily targeting people in public. Officers randomly stop people who they deem suspicious and search them for evidence of prostitution — and, if they find condoms, that can be enough for an arrest.
That’s created a culture where some New Orleans residents are risking HIV transmission rather than risking getting caught with condoms. “Sex workers, transgender women and others at high risk of HIV infection told us that they were afraid to carry condoms and that they sometimes had to engage in sex without protection out of fear of police harassment,” the report notes.
New Orleans isn’t the only place where this is happening. It’s not uncommon for law enforcement officials to use condoms as evidence of prostitution. Studies have documented the harmful effects of this approach in New York City, where police tend to confiscate condoms from LGBT adults, youth of color, and lower-income communities. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC also all have high rates of HIV infection among sex workers who say they’re afraid to carry condoms
Read more about HRW here
Source: Think Progress