SWOP USA Calls for End Of PEPFAR Anti-Sex Work Oath

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Regional Correspondent North America and the Caribbean

NSWP member organisation SWOP USA launched a campaign to end PEPFAR’s “anti-prostitution loyalty oath,” in November. The campaign is in collaboration with SWOP Philadelphia, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, Desiree Alliance, and Best Practices Policy Project. All are NSWP member organisations. PEPFAR stands for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It is a United States funder that provides money for local and international projects aimed at reducing HIV transmission. PEPFAR is one of the largest global funders of HIV prevention money, with a budget of $6.73 billion as of 2014.

In 2003, PEPFAR added an “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” to their funding. The pledge requires organisations to take an anti-sex work stance. It eliminates funding for organisations that support a harm reduction model in working with sex workers. The oath is part of an anti-trafficking push by the US government, which conflates sex work with human trafficking. More information on this inaccurate view on sex work can be found in the five-page NSWP briefing paper Sex Work is Not Trafficking.

In 2004, Brazil refused to sign the oath, resulting in cuts of $40 million in AIDS funding. PEPFAR’s anti-sex work stance has had devastating effects on sex workers internationally. As SWOP USA’s statement details, the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” undermines PEPFAR’s own mission of preventing the transmission of HIV. The oath increases stigma and decreases access to services for sex workers globally. The Journal of the International AIDS Society published a thorough analysis of the implementation of PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution pledge and its implications for successful HIV prevention among organizations working with sex workers.

In 2013, the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” was challenged by Open Society Foundation on the grounds of free speech. The challenge was successful in removing the oath for projects in the United States, however the oath remains for international organisations.

They also provided a number of ways to continue advocacy against the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath,” including engaging with local PEPFAR teams through US embassies in each country. PEPFAR will also be starting quarterly civil society consultations with key populations. Sex workers and allies are encouraged by SWOP USA to provide feedback at these consultations against the oath. The campaign and online consultation ended November 19. PEPFAR will post the final guidance on December 1, World AIDS Day.

Sex work filmmaker Carol Leigh created a 13 minute short film on PEPFAR’s “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” called Just Sign on the Dotted Line – The Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath.