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US Supreme Court Overturns the "Anti-prostitution Pledge"
In 2003, the Bush Administration enacted a law requiring nonprofits that receive federal funds to fight AIDS internationally to sign a statement publicly opposing sex work. On Thursday, a decade of advocacy challenging the provision yielded an enormous victory: the US Supreme Court struck down the infamous “anti-prostitution pledge.” In a 6-2 ruling, the policy was deemed to be in violation of the First Amendment.
For ten years, this misguided policy has forced organizations to make a difficult decision: denounce the communities they serve or lose vital funding for lifesaving HIV/AIDS programs. Increasing condom use among sex workers requires direct engagement, demonstrations of correct use, training on negotiating with clients, and collective action among sex workers, all of which could be considered under the policy as “promoting prostitution.”
“At first when we went to [Lima’s] red light district, people wouldn’t talk to us," said a health educator at INPPARES, our Member Association in Peru. "They’d grab a bunch of condoms and run away. Now when we come to the district, everyone runs toward the van.”
“Many of the clients we work with live as men in the jungle during the week and as women in Lima on the weekends,” said Dr. Daniel Aspicuelta, INPPARES' Executive Director. He explained that the communities they reach with HIV prevention services often distrust the health system due to fear of stigma and discrimination. For many sex workers, transgender, and LGBT individuals—particularly those from rural areas in Peru—the red light district is a safe haven to freely express their gender and sexual identities.
Publicly denouncing sex work imposes barriers to establishing the trust needed to provide services to hard-to-reach men and women. Stigma drives sex workers away from accessing critical health education and services. This policy endangered the lives of sex workers, their clients, and their families.
“Beyond being a monumental step forward for human rights, the US Supreme Court ruling allows sexual and reproductive health experts to do what they do best: provide quality, evidenced-based health care without discrimination,” said Carmen Barroso, IPPF/WHR's Regional Director. “This decision is the first step in overturning this ill-conceived policy. The next step is to remove the requirement from foreign-based NGOs that receive US funding.”