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Group sues U.S.
government over sex worker pledge

Group sues U.S.
government over sex worker pledge

DKT International, a Washington, D.C.-based group that provides HIV prevention services for sex workers in developing countries, this week filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its requirement that all groups receiving U.S. funding sign a pledge in opposition to sex work, The Wall Street Journal reports. The organization filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the pledge violates the group's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

The pledge stems from two 2003 laws that require all groups receiving U.S. funding to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking. Bush administration officials announced in June that the policy applies to all U.S. and international groups receiving HIV prevention and treatment funds through the five-year, $15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

DKT filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Agency for International Development and its administrator, Andrew Natsios, for withholding a grant for the organization's HIV prevention project in Vietnam after the agency refused to sign the pledge. DKT, which last year sold about 390 million discounted condoms in 11 countries to commercial sex workers, had been running the Vietnam program for the past 12 years.

DKT claims in the lawsuit that being required to endorse the Bush administration's political viewpoint on commercial sex work is a direct violation of the free speech protections guaranteed under the First Amendment. "The government cannot tell us what policies to have," DKT founder Philip Harvey told the Journal.

USAID spokeswoman Heather Layman told the Journal that while it is the policy of the government to require grant recipients to sign the pledge opposing sex work, "there is nothing in U.S. law that prohibits the U.S. or any of our partners from providing services to high-risk populations, including women in prostitution."

Brazilian health officials in May refused $40 million in AIDS grants from the United States to protest the pledge requirement. Brazil's top AIDS officials say that because the country's HIV prevention and treatment model includes groups like sex workers, injection-drug users, and gay men, submitting to the Bush administration's demands would hurt--not help--HIV efforts in the country. The also said the policy interferes with the nation's efforts to promote diversity, ethical principles, and human rights.

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