Imagine a city that passes out condoms for free and busts people who carry condoms. That’s what seems to be happening in New Orleans, where the city’s health department doles out protection while the city’s police department doles out harassment.

According to “In Harm’s Way,” a recent report from Human Rights Watch, sex workers and those suspected of engaging in sex work report that cops use the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution. (Similar police practices have been documented in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.)

How do prostitutes react to harassment in the Big Easy? Often by carrying fewer condoms or by having unprotected sex.

The watchdog organization suggests that condom crackdowns, along with vague loitering laws and bans on the non-medical sale and distribution of syringes, may help explain why New Orleans’ rate of new HIV/AIDS infection is the third-highest in the nation.

Cleo, a 36-year-old woman, claims officers’ reach extends beyond the streets. “In the French Quarter [in March 2013],” she says, “I was at [a bar] with a man and the cops asked only the trans women to go outside and they searched us. If we had condoms we got arrested for attempted solicitation."

However, the New Orleans Police Department takes issue with the report. “NOPD does not arrest individuals for carrying condoms, as possession of condoms is not a crime,” says a police department spokesperson, who goes on to admit that carrying condoms, “can--by law--be considered evidence” of prostitution.

1 minute, 45 seconds.

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"Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?" is written and directed by Ted Balaker (@tedbalaker). Produced by and motion graphics by Matt Edwards (@MattChrisEd). Opening motion graphics by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Zach Weissmueller. "Victim" played by Paul Detrick. Music by audionautix.com and "The Contessa" is by Maurice and the Beejays (Magnatune Records).

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