All U.S. AIDS organizations that seek federal funding to operate projects overseas are being required by the Bush administration to sign a pledge opposing sex work, The Wall Street Journal reports. Even groups that do no work with sex workers are being forced to sign written pledges opposing sex work or they could lose their federal funding, according to AIDS agencies. Some also are being pressured by Bush administration officials and Republican lawmakers to similarly speak out against needle-exchange programs to reduce HIV infections among injection-drug users, despite numerous studies showing that needle exchanges do not encourage drug use and drastically lower HIV transmission rates.
The new policies stem from two 2003 laws, one focused on AIDS funding and the other on sex trafficking. U.S. representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey introduced an amendment to the AIDS funding bill that prohibited any federal funds issued through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to go to groups that do not have a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. The restrictions were added to the federal laws because although conservatives support funding AIDS efforts overseas, "there are areas of concern that risk the continued support from a number of conservative members and conservative groups," Republican senator Sam Brownback of Kansas told the Journal. Brownback in early February sent a memo to several political groups and lawmakers seeking support for a ban on all USAID grants going to groups that don't fully support the Bush administration's views on drug use and sexual abstinence.
Janice Crouse of the right-wing group Concerned Women for America says the new laws were designed in part because too much federal AIDS funding in the past has gone to "left-leaning groups" and the new policies "redress that imbalance," the Journal reports.
U.S. AIDS advocates say many AIDS groups are reluctant to sign pledges because they often distribute condoms and safer-sex information to sex workers overseas and worry that such pledges would require them to end these programs. They also worry that signing pledges in opposition to sex work could stigmatize sex workers in foreign countries, keep them away from HIV prevention programs, and lead to further spread of the virus through unsafe sex by prostitutes. Susan Cohen, director of government affairs for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, called the new Bush administration policies "another salvo" in the ongoing campaign to "create more and more litmus tests and blacklists of those they're willing to do business with," the Journal reports.