By Cassandra Novick
Policymakers are currently divided over an anti-prostitution pledge.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a persistent advocate for human rights, is one of a handful of lawmakers that stand in support of the pledge, which he inserted into legislation back in 2003. However, HIV/AIDS advocates, the United Nations, US courts, and the US Congress are now debating the repercussions of both condoning and condemning prostitution.
Smith authored the anti-prostituion pledge language into the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act, better known as Congress’s approval of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was passed in May 2003. Similar language was also written into the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that passed in December 2003.
The language in the two congressional acts prevents the distribution of HIV/AIDS funding from the US to any organizations that “support, promote or advocate the legalization sex trafficking.” This means services to sex workers such as HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention methods, including condoms and testing, remain unfunded and largely unavailable, while sex workers are counted among the populations most vulnerable to contracting and unknowingly spreading HIV.
In 2004, the Consolidated Appropriates Act exempted the Global Fund, World Health Organizations, and any UN agency from the anti-prostitution pledge.
The pledge has only been enforced on foreign organizations receiving funding from the United States because compliance of US organizations to the pledge has fallen under attack by the US courts on the basis of First Amendment Rights.
A DC circuit court of appeals upheld the pledge in 2007, only to be challenged in a 2011 case, Alliance for Open Society International vs. USAID, where the District Court of New York upheld an injunction protecting organizations from having to sign the anti-prostitution pledge as well as stating that it would likely that such a pledge violations First Amendment Rights.
On April 27 of this year, Smith insisted that the US Justice Department petition the US Supreme Court to review the PEPFAR funding prohibition that is the Anti-Prostitution Pledge.
The latest fight against the anti-prostitution pledge comes from sex workers and advocates alike this week at the 2012 International AIDS Conference in D.C.. In various sessions, open forums, and as part of larger protests, advocates have been rallying against the Anti-Prostitution Pledge with the tagline “No injection drug users, no sex workers… no International AIDS Conference,” and the chant, “Sex workers right are human rights.”
Dr. Diane Havlir, AIDS 2012 U.S. Co-Chair explained in a press release, “We ́ve seen over three decades that evidence-based approaches to public health have been the most effective instruments in driving down new infection in high-risk groups.”
Dr. Havlir added in an attempt to explain the need for opposition to the pledge, “Needle exchange programs have saved millions of lives in many countries the world over, legal reform of sex work in some countries has reduced exposure to infection and the decriminalization of homosexuality is strongly linked to effective outreach in that community.”
Cheryl Overs, Faculty of Medicine at Monash University in Australia, also stated in Thursday’s press release from the 2012 International AIDS conference, “Sex workers from Sweden to Singapore to Swaziland say the greatest threat to their health and human rights is law and policy that make it impossible to find safe places to work and prevents them from enjoying the same opportunities and protections as other workers and citizens.”
The UN and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) are both taking action against the pledge. The UN has recently been promoting, at the International AIDS Conference, a new plan to legalize prostitution by advocating for the repeal of laws prohibiting the sale of consensual sex in more than 100 countries, including the US.
Additionally, Lee promised at the International AIDS Conference to repeal the anti-prostitution pledge through her new bill, HR 6138, called the Ending HIV/AIDS Epidemic Act.