(New York City, May 1, 2007) Randall Tobias retired from his position asDirector of U. S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator for the U. S. Agency for international Development (USAID) after being implicated in aprostitution scandal. The irony is that Tobias was the chief enforcer andmouthpiece of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge, which requires USAID grantees, among others, to denounce prostitutes the very people whom they are tryingto empower and serve. As advocates for the health and human rights of sexworkers, we are not interested in Randall Tobias’s personal life. However, the recent revelations about his connections to an escort agency thatoperated in Washington DC provide an opportunity to reflect on theineffective and morality-driven policies that he enforced.
The proponents of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge claim that it will help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, sex workers are not the source of theHIV problem, instead, they are a key part of the solution. When they areempowered and their rights are protected, sex workers are able to insist on condom use and take on the role of sexual health educators andprevention advocates. It is difficult, if not impossible, for sex workersto mobilize when they are being demonized. The real human impact of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge is that people around the world are being deniedthe healthcare, rights, and services that they deserve:
- Brazil rejected approximately $40 million in USAID money becausesigning the Pledge would interfere with its successful anti-HIV/AIDS program;
- A class that taught English to sex workers in Cambodia lostfunding as a result of this policy;
- In Bangladesh, 16 drop-in centers lost funding when the agencythat supported them signed the Pledge the sex workers affected by this describe it as having lost their home,their family, and their sense of community and safety; and
- Organizations in India that work to empower and organize sexworkers in India have been falsely accused of trafficking the very women that they are helping.
Organizations are so fearful of the political backlash stemming from theAnti-Prostitution Pledge that many are going further than the Pledge mayeven require, because they do not understand what kinds of programs are banned. For examples, some groups have dismissed sex workers, claimingthat they can no longer keep them on staff, and other groups havedistanced themselves from sex workers groups with whom they had previously worked and supported.
The real hypocrisy here is that people who need healthcare and services,and who need their rights to be protected, are being denounced by thosewhose stated mission is to help them.
The Network of Sex Work Projects http://www.nswp.org has produced a13-minute video about the effects of the pledge. Watch "Taking the Pledge"at http://www.sexworkerspresent.blip.tv/file/181155
The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center provides legalservices, legal training, documentation, and policy advocacy for sexworkers in New York City. For more information, please visit our website at http://www.sexworkersproject.org
Contact: Melissa Ditmore, firstname.lastname@example.org and Juhu Thukral, SWP,646/602.5690 email@example.com