But over the past few months, the police have allegedly begun to use these two items--condoms and the "Bad Date Line"--as proof-positive to kick the women who possess them out of the so-called prostitution-free zone (PFZ).
Two months ago, city council re-authorized the PFZ, a geographic area along West Burnside where police may exclude for 90 days any person suspected of prostitution. Under the rules, an officer needs only to observe what he believes is behavior leaning towards solicitation. This highly subjective standard has raised objections with social workers and attorneys, who say that discretion hands the power of judge and jury to the police.
The recent alleged use of seized condoms and the Bad Date Line to exclude sex workers from the PFZ also has raised concerns among social workers that these women are being punished for trying to be safe.
"It is really sad," said one social worker, who preferred to remain anonymous. "These programs are meant to protect [the sex workers]. It's an HIV-prevention program and an educational program."
But police who patrol the area say that mere possession of condoms and a Bad Date Line pamphlet would not be enough for them to exclude someone. "The fact that they have rubbers [in their purse] doesn't do a lot for me," says Matt Engen, a senior neighborhood officer. "We don't like operating that low," he adds. "But if they are flagging down cars, flashing tits" then he would issue an exclusion.
Social workers have said that this alleged crackdown will not discourage them from handing out condoms or the Bad Date Line. The prostitutes will figure out a way to outsmart the police, said one worker. "They are a resourceful bunch."