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Advocacy group calls out DA Zappala over criminalizing condoms stance

Jamie Martines
| Monday, June 18, 2018, 10:21 a.m.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Pittsburgh responded to a letter from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala over the weekend regarding the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution-related charges.

The organization said that Zappala "incorrectly characterized SWOP as 'represent[ing] an industry that is illegal in Pennsylvania'" and urged him to reconsider whether current policies truly target human traffickers.

"Concretely, while SWOP Pittsburgh urges people to respect the law, we do not believe anyone — even those who break it — should suffer HIV, STIs, or unwanted pregnancy," the group's letter said. "Public servants have a responsibility to promote public health for all members of the community, and it is troubling that a public servant would express unwillingness to engage with a local community organizer simply because the vulnerable and stigmatized population they serve sometimes breaks the law."

The correspondence started Friday after SWOP Pittsburgh, along with several other southwestern Pennsylvania advocacy organizations, signed an open letter asking Zappala to take steps to end the criminalization of condoms.

Zappala responded with a letter of his own and did not suggest that his office would consider making changes to existing procedures or policies.

A spokesperson for Zappala declined to comment further but reiterated that Zappala has requested a discussion with the Allegheny County Chiefs of police concerning prostitution, the exploitation of women and minors as well as sex trafficking, as noted in his letter to the advocacy groups last week.

A Trib analysis published this month showed that police charged people with both prostitution and possessing an instrument of crime in 100 cases last year in Allegheny County. In 15 of those cases, condoms were the alleged instrument of crime. In 14 others, police seized condoms as evidence.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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