Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report last week detailing how aggressive police harassment and the consideration of condoms as evidence of prostitution may be worsening Louisiana’s HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly in New Orleans.

“Sex workers, transgender women and others at high risk of HIV infection told us that they were afraid to carry condoms and that they sometimes had to engage in sex without protection out of fear of police harassment,” the report explains.

Louisiana has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the US, and the state’s AIDS death rate is over two times the national average. Over half of New Orleans’ residents are also living in or near poverty and face homelessness and incarceration at high rates. Despite these statistics, HRW claims that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) “has chosen punishment over health” among at-risk, marginalized communities.

Other major cities have faced criticism for similar issues. This summer, New York passed a law to prevent police from using condoms as evidence against prostitution, and HRW recommends that Louisiana should do the same. HRW also suggests the state should create a syringe exchange program for drug users, accept ACA’s Medicaid expansion rates to help more people get healthcare, and take into account other public health factors that affect the HIV/AIDS rates, like its high poverty levels, which can lead people to turn to sex work for survival.

Media Resources: Rt.com 12/16/13; Human Rights Watch 6/25/13, 12/11/13

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