Vice Squad
Sunday, July 24, 2005
The Public Anti-Prostitution Oath

Back in May, when Vice Squad was more or less a going concern, we mentioned the policy of the US Agency for International Development (imposed by Congress) requiring grantees on anti-HIV projects to affirm their opposition to prostitution -- and Brazil's forfeit of $40 million from refusing to take the oath. Today's New York Times has more on the Brazilian situation. The basic story, familiar to readers of Vice Squad, is that Brazil has opted for a harm reduction approach that works closely with prostitutes to reduce AIDS incidence, while the US seems to want to insist on some lip service being paid to a zero-tolerance-for-prostitution policy. Why do we do this? Brazil has had tremendous success with its harm reduction. Many countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and so on, have legal prostitution -- oh yeah, we do too, in certain rural counties of Nevada. From the Times story:
"It's not as if you're choosing between two neutral policy programs," said Chris Beyrer of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Brazil has good data to show that their approach works, and to ask them to change that, even if they get the additional money, to one for which there is no evidence, just because of moral squeamishness in the United States, is an extraordinary position to take."
A second story in today's Times, this one in the Magazine, tells a similar tale from Cambodia, where a group working to help improve the lives of sex workers lost US AID funding through unwillingness to take the pledge. This article also touches upon one of the perennially difficult issues with prostitution, namely, the extent to which decisions to become (or remain) a prostitute can reasonably be viewed as voluntary. A sample:
Rescue groups focus on prostitutes who are ''trafficked'': those who are under-age, have been tricked into sex work or are held captive by force or in debt bondage. But such cases are a minority. A 2002 U.S.A.I.D.-backed study found that 20 percent of the sex workers the researchers encountered directly were trafficked. But because of sample bias, the study's author, Thomas Steinfatt, says that he thinks the countrywide percentage is much lower. Another study of Vietnamese migrant sex workers, who make up about half of the prostitutes in Phnom Penh, found that 94 in 100 had sought out the work aware of the conditions they would be working in.

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