On Wednesday, July 13th, a 2-1 ruling by the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that the U.S. government cannot force organizations receiving U.S. funding for HIV and AIDS programming  to denounce prostitution and sex trafficking. The court found that the U.S. federal rule, commonly referred to as the “anti–prostitution loyalty oath,” violates the first amendment by “restricting privately funded speech and forcing organizations to adopt the government’s viewpoint” (Pathfinder International). Organizations that provide HIV prevention, care, and treatment services hail this ruling as a step forward in combating stigma and other barriers that make it difficult to reach this vulnerable population. This case was originally brought to court in 2005 by Pathfinder International and the Alliance for Open Society International.

The “anti-prostitution pledge” requires organizations to denounce both prostitution and trafficking. Yet, some organizations working with most-at-risk populations, specifically with sex workers, believe the anti-prostitution pledge adds to the challenges they face in meeting the needs of those who sell sex. Jamie Alexis of Pathfinder International explains, “I have never met anyone in the development community who is not firmly opposed to or horrified by trafficking…. One problem with the anti-prostitution pledge, however, is that it conflates prostitution and trafficking, which ignores realities on the ground. In many developing countries, there are individuals who sell sex for their livelihood–food and shelter. And these individuals require and deserve access to health and social services, including HIV prevention and care. Condemning and judging them by denouncing their livelihood can drive them further from the help they need [and] limit their ability to access services.” Pathfinder International “works with sex workers to organize and empower them so that they can advocate for their rights (which is both an effective HIV prevention strategy as well as an effective means of reducing other harms of sex work, including violence and exploitation.)” She asks, “Is that ‘promoting prostitution?’”

Daniel E. Pellegrom, president of Pathfinder International, says, “[This] victory has profound implications not only for the rights of private, nongovernmental organizations to operate without undue government interference, but for the health of vulnerable women, men, and adolescents in less developed countries.”

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FHI 360 is hosting an e-forum on behalf of the IYWG to discuss the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people most at risk of HIV. Click here to view the sub-topic pages and read the bios of our experts from WHO, UNICEF, amfAR, Youth R.I.S.E., and the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. This forum will give participants an opportunity to discuss ways to meet the sexual and reproductive health and HIV needs of most-at-risk young people and to ask questions about the report Young People Most at Risk of HIV.