The Columbia School of Social Work in collaboration with the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project hosted a seminar to screen the video Taking the Pledge. Taking the Pledge is a documentary about the impact of the Bush administration’s attempts to restrict USAID to organizations around the world receiving funding to combat HIV/AIDS. The anti-prostitution pledge requires organizations that have received funding to formally pledge their opposition to prostitution and trafficking into sex work. Another restriction prevents the use of federal funds to be used towards any activities that “promote or support the legalization or practice of prostitution.” One of the problems with the pledge is that its obscure language may inadvertently scare organizations into terminating their HIV prevention efforts among certain groups altogether due to a fear of losing essential funds from USAID. This is extremely problematic.
The world’s oldest profession is ubiquitous and the anti-prostitution pledge is counterproductive because it avoids this very fact. Thousands of women around the world are coerced into sex work because of the lack of other economic options. Therefore, despite the moral debate around sex work, the increase of HIV/AIDS contraction among sex workers is a reality.
Effective HIV/AIDS programs must tailor their prevention efforts to the needs of those groups who are most susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases. Sex workers comprise a significant percentage of this group. Although none of the organizations that receive USAID promote prostitution or sex work, the language of the anti-prostitution pledge could force organizations into terminating any prevention efforts around sex workers altogether.
The U.S. prides itself in providing generous donations and development assistance to public health and social welfare programs worldwide. However, policies that fail to address realities and work collaboratively with other countries’ national efforts to stem problems are not productive. The fight against HIV/AIDS is ongoing and good prevention programs must address the sexual health needs of all individuals including sex workers whose risk for HIV contraction is comparatively high. The efficacy of federal monies will only be enhanced if it acknowledges the strategies of other programs’ prevention and social welfare efforts and work collectively to contribute to the protection of the human rights of all workers.
For more information about the pledge and to download the video, please click here.