There is no 3 condoms = prostitute law in the District.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘George Eastman House’

Approximately 23,746 of you have forwarded me some variation of the 3-rubbers-and-you’re-arrested-in-DC meme currently making its way around the interwebbies, with varying degrees of outrage and hysteria. Meanwhile, the article that originally mentioned the 3 condoms standard doesn’t actually provide anything more substantial than the phrase “anecdotal evidence suggests” as a source for this information, and even then only mentioned it in the context of a much larger point about the downsides of using condoms as evidence for obtaining prostitution convictions.

So let’s take a moment to filter out the outrage:

- The theoretical 3 condom standard is not DC law. DC law is silent on the topic of condoms as evidence against prostitutes.  Therefore, DC police officers are not specifically encouraged to use or forbidden from using condoms as evidence in making an arrest.

- An officer still has to have probable cause to search a person in order to discover that he or she is carrying condoms, which means the number of condoms carried would be fairly useless as a solo piece of evidence. You will not be arrested for buying a 12-pack at CVS and toting it home.  

So no, DC law does not define you as a prostitute for having more than 3 condoms in your pocket at any given time. That’s ridiculous. It seems likely, however, that the number of condoms being carried could be or even has been used as evidence against an alleged prostitute in DC, and 3 is as arbitrary a number as any for individual officers or precincts to adopt as a standard enforcement practice. So sure, that likely has happened.

The question that the original article raised (which is getting lost in the sensationalism over the supposed 3 condom rule) is whether or not using condoms as evidence is a good idea. With DC’s HIV/AIDS numbers where they are, DC really can’t afford to engage in any kind of policy that discourages condom use, especially in marginalized populations with less access to health care.

(Yeah, there’s also an argument to be made that legalizing prostitution would encourage safer behavior, but good luck with getting THAT through Congress on the heels of legalizing gay marriage.)

So, do feel free to call your council member and ask them to fix the law so that condoms can’t be used as evidence in prostitution cases, but don’t freak out about the non-existent 3-condom rule.

Tiffany Baxendell Bridge is an Internet enthusiast and an incurable smartass. When not heckling the neighborhood political scene on Twitter, she can be found goofing off with her ukulele, Bollywood dancing, or obsessing about cult TV. She is That Woman With the Baby In the Bar.

Tiffany lives in Brookland with her husband Tom, son Charlie, and two high-maintenance cats. Read why Tiffany loves DC.

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