When Julia Roberts pulled a strip of colorful condoms out of her boot in her break-out roll as a prostitute in 1990’s Pretty Woman and declared “I’m a safety girl,” I breathed a sigh of relief. While I was waiting for her inevitable happy ending (and forgetting to be outraged by the offensive messages of this modern fairytale), I was glad to see that she was protecting herself and her future by avoiding STDs (and pimps and kissing on the mouth). Turns out that my reaction to her condoms is one of the many things about the lives of sex workers that wasn’t exactly on-target in this star-making movie. Rather than being considered a sign of good protective behavior, in New York City carrying condoms can be used as evidence of prostitution, and therefore a crime.
Apparently, New York Police officers use possession of condoms (especially more than one condom) as one of the factors in determining whether there is probable cause to arrest someone for prostitution or loitering for the purposes of prostitution.
One judge told the New York Times that he would not be swayed by condoms as evidence: