USAID Prostitution “loyalty oath” found unconstitutional in two courts

Two lawsuits against the US government over the so-called prostitution “loyalty oath” have ended with rulings favoring organizations that sued to defend their freedom of speech. In separate rulings, judges in the Southern New York US District Court and District of Columbia US District court found the requirement that all recipients of USAID money to sign a pledge “opposing prostitution and sex trafficking” to be an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of the organizations, DKT International and Open Society Institute.

By forcing groups to sign the anti-prostitution pledge, the government has been undermining best practices in HIV prevention. The most successful HIV prevention projects involving sex workers include strong efforts to promote leadership of sex workers as knowledgeable voices in their own communities, recruit sex workers as peer educators to conduct health promotion, and affirm sex workers’ value as members of society, while combating stigma. The US funding restriction has made all of those activities difficult, if not impossible, undermining health promotion and contradicting evidence-based public health practice, while in fact promoting stigma because the pledge requires the signatories to agree that “prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing…” The pledge is reminiscent of the Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, which forbids any organization abroad working on reproductive health issues and receiving money from the US government from mentioning abortion, a policy which is also troubling.

Unfortunately, the decisions against the pledge does not apply to non-US based organizations, which are on the front lines of fighting against HIV and for human rights. While Best Practices Policy Project applauds these court decisions, we hope that the pledge requirements will be removed altogether in the near future. That would be key to the success of HIV prevention efforts, and also a step in the right direction to recognize and protect the human rights of sex workers, around the world and in the United States.

For a fact sheet on the pledge, click here For a timeline, click here Read more about the court decisions here and here