Human Rights Watch (HRW) is demanding that the New Orleans Police Department stop harassing sex workers in a manner that undermines the city's efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Despite the fact that Louisiana's death rate from AIDS is double the national average, the New Orleans Police Department is enforcing a "loitering for prostitution" statute that encourages unsafe sexual practices.

If police suspect a person of being a prostitute, they can arrest them if they discover that they're carrying condoms. The HRW report claims that this has led to a situation in which "[s]ex workers, transgender women and others at high risk of HIV infection [are] afraid to carry condoms and that they sometimes had to engage in sex without protection out of fear of police harassment."

Raw Story contacted the New Orleans Police Department and asked how many condoms a person had to possess in order to be arrested on charges of "loitering for prostitution." A department spokesperson told us that it was "more than five," but when asked if that meant that carrying a legally purchased box of condoms would warrant an arrest, the spokesperson refused to answer.

The struggle against HIV and AIDS in New Orleans is further hampered by state laws that prohibit the sale and distribution of syringes for any non-medical use, categorizing such items as "illegal drug paraphernalia." Access to clean syringes, according the HRW report, has been "shown to lower HIV risk and hepatitis transmission, prevent overdose and provide a gateway for drug treatment programs and other important health information."

HRW claims that the only means of addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic is for the Louisiana legislature to reform laws against the possession and distribution of syringes and decriminalize sex work pertaining to the consensual behavior of adults.

["Police Officer Delay Prostitute In Front Of Brick Wall" on Shutterstock]