Impending Federal Audit of AIDS Prevention Programs Prompts Some Groups to Tone Down Sexually Themed Materials
As federal officials prepare to conduct a "comprehensive review" of all AIDS prevention programs funded with federal money, some people involved with AIDS prevention say that the threat of an audit has already produced a "chilling effect" on the sexual tone of program materials, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 1/4). The debate over the content of AIDS prevention materials erupted in November, when a report by the HHS inspector general found that the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project used some of its $700,000 federal grant to provide HIV prevention workshops that encouraged sexual activity and met the "legal definition of obscene material." CDC guidelines for federally funded HIV prevention programs state that the programs cannot promote sexual activity or intravenous drug use and must meet the obscenity standards set forth in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Case Miller v. California (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/16/01). The Labor-HHS appropriations bill (HR 3061) for fiscal year 2002 includes a provision allowing the HHS inspector general to conduct an audit of all federally funded HIV/AIDS prevention programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/20/01).
Tone It Down
Officials from Better World Advertising, an agency that helped design a "provocative" television commercial about AIDS prevention that was rejected by several California television stations, said that some prevention groups are "starting to censor themselves" and are toning down the content of their materials in anticipation of the federal audit. "We've already seen a chilling effect. Just the threat of these audits and these reviews has made people a lot more cautious," Better World Advertising President Les Pappas said. Leaders of several AIDS prevention groups said they fear the audits "will squelch ... creative campaigns that use sexually suggestive language and photos to promote safer sex." Some groups said that even general advertisements aimed at the gay or bisexual community are often "sexually provocative," and thus safe sex messages "must be explicit to compete for attention." Some AIDS advocates said that sexually themed prevention messages are working, although it is difficult to measure the success of such messages. "In the context of prevention ... it's much more difficult to identify success. How do you identify (infections) that don't happen?" Charles Henry, director of the Office of AIDS Programs and Policy for Los Angeles County, said.
A 'Critical Time'
Prevention advocates said that the audits are coming "at a critical time" because health officials are "urgently trying to combat a resurgence of risky sex behavior among gay and bisexual men." Scott Evertz, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said that he is "not overly concerned" about the federal audits, but added that AIDS groups that are "'really pushing the envelope' may bring unwanted scrutiny to prevention groups in general." Evertz added that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson supports giving local officials control over prevention efforts in their communities (Los Angeles Times, 1/4).