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DKT International Sues to Continue HIV-Prevention Outreach with Sex Workers

On August 11, DKT International filed suit in federal court in Washington DC , challenging the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Andrew Natsios, Administrator of USAID, on the new federal requirement that organizations receiving federal monies for global HIV/AIDS work must adopt a policy “explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”1 This policy was first enacted as part of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 and then implemented through USAID Acquisition and Assistance Policy Directive 05-04. The requirement has drawn criticism from HIV/AIDS advocates and public health experts worldwide and may constitute an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech.

DKT is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that specializes in social marketing campaigns about family planning and HIV-prevention programs in some of the poorest countries in the world and, last year, the organization sold 390 million condoms at subsidized prices in 11 countries to fight AIDS.2 It receives about 16% of its $50 million annual operating budget from the U.S. government.3 In June, DKT sought a $60,000 sub-grant from Family Health International (FHI), a USAID contractor, to continue its work in Viet Nam , where it has been working in collaboration with other organizations and donors—including the U.S. government—for well over a decade. Although FHI initially approved the grant, which sought to market condom lubricants to help reduce condom breakage and therefore boost their effectiveness in preventing HIV infection, it later withdrew its approval after DKT's representative refused to sign a pledge certifying that it has a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking, as per the USAID directive.4

DKT has no official policy on prostitution and does not wish to adopt one. DKT argues that having to publicly pledge support for the Bush Administration's “political viewpoint on prostitution” violates its First Amendment free-speech rights. DKT filed for an injunction, asking the court to declare the requirement unconstitutional and prevent USAID from enforcing the requirement. In particular, DKT is suing for the sub-grant through FHI to continue its work in Viet Nam .

Advocates have labeled the requirement a “loyalty oath” and a litmus test, worrying that the Bush Administration might refuse to fund HIV/AIDS groups that do not accept the Administration's conservative social agenda on other important issues such as sexual behavior, abstinence, and drug use. DKT president, Philip D. Harvey, called requiring an “anti-prostitution” policy a “hollow gesture” that actually does nothing to help sex workers make their lives safer. He explained, “rather it represents posturing by American politicians who are increasingly seen around the world as patronizing, bullying, and obsessed with sex.”5 Harvey added, “such a policy further stigmatizes the very people we are trying to help. It requires us to condemn what sex workers do for a living, thus undermining the relationship of trust and mutual respect required to effectively conduct AIDS-prevention work. DKT will not allow its field workers to be put in that position.”6

Many in the international community agree. In fact, the government of Brazil became the first nation ever to reject U.S. funding over ideological differences when it refused the remaining $40 million in a 5-year grant from the U.S. government in protest of the restrictions on funding under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief , which governs all U.S. foreign aid related to HIV/AIDS. Brazil's government refused the money in protest of PEPFAR's agenda. Pedro Chequer, director of Brazil's AIDS program and chair of the national commission that decided to refuse the grants, described the Bush Administration policy as “interference that harms the Brazilian policy regarding diversity, ethical principles, and human rights.”

For more information on the DKT case and on advocacy efforts surrounding the pledge, please visit the Center for Health and Gender Equity website.

For more information on the anti-prostitution pledge requirement, please see:

“U.S.-Based Aid Groups Receive Ultimatum: Pledge Your Opposition to Prostitution and Sex Trafficking or Do Without Federal Funds” ( SIECUS policy up-date)

References

  1. United States Agency for International Development, “Implementation of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003—Eligibility Limitation on the Use of Funds and Opposition Prostitution and Sex Trafficking,” Acquisition and Assistance Policy Directive 05-04, 9 June 2005.
  2. “DKT International Files Suit over USAID Anti-Prostitution Pledge,” Planetwire.org (August 2005), accessed 22 August 2005, <http://www.planetwire.org>.
  3. Michael M. Phillips, “AIDS Group Sues Over Funds,” The Wall Street Journal, 12 August 2005, B3.
  4. Ibid.
  5. DKT International, “DKT International filed a lawsuit yesterday,” Press Release Published 12 August 2005.
  6. Ibid.

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