U.S. Group That Provides HIV Prevention Services to Commercial Sex Workers Abroad Sues USAID Over Loss of Grant
Washington, D.C.-based DKT International, a not-for-profit organization that provides HIV/AIDS prevention services to commercial sex workers worldwide, has filed a federal lawsuit against USAID, arguing that the U.S. policy requiring HIV/AIDS organizations seeking funding to provide services in other countries to pledge to oppose commercial sex work violates the group's First Amendment right to free speech, the Wall Street Journal reports (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 8/12). The policy -- which Bush administration officials made public in June -- stems from two 2003 laws, including an amendment to legislation (HR 1298) authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that prohibits funds from going to any group or organization that does not have a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/10). DKT -- which last year sold about 390 million discount condoms in 11 countries to commercial sex workers and specializes in marketing techniques that promote condom use -- filed the lawsuit against USAID and its administrator, Andrew Natsios, for rejecting an HIV/AIDS subgrant for a project the group has conducted in Vietnam for the past 12 years. According to court documents, DKT in June filed for a $60,000 subgrant from USAID contractor Family Health International to market condom lubricants to reduce the risk of condom breakage. FHI initially approved the subgrant but then later denied it when DKT refused to sign the pledge opposing commercial sex work.
Suit Details, USAID Response
In its court filing, DKT said that being required to publicly endorse the Bush administration's "political viewpoint" on commercial sex work violates the First Amendment. "The government cannot tell us what policies to have," Philip Harvey, the group's founder, said. DKT, which receives about 16% of its $50 million annual budget from the U.S. government, has asked the court to prevent USAID from withholding the organization's federal grants pending a ruling in the suit. USAID spokesperson Heather Layman said that although "it's the official policy of the U.S. government to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking as dehumanizing and degrading, ... there is nothing in U.S. law that prohibits the U.S. or any of our partners from providing services to high-risk populations, including women in prostitution." The suit is the most recent in several debates over "strings the Bush administration and its socially conservative allies in Congress have attached" to U.S. foreign aid, particularly on issues such as sexual conduct and injection drug use, the Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 8/12).