AJWS Praises Supreme Court Decision to Strike Down Anti-Prostitution Pledge

Major Progress in Global Battle Against HIV/AIDS

NEW YORK, NY — American Jewish World Service released the following statement today after the Supreme Court of the United States overruled a provision of the 2003 United States Leadership Act against HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The law required organizations receiving federal funding to pledge that they oppose prostitution.

AJWS was a signatory on the amicus brief for the original lawsuit in a New York federal appeals court supporting the defendants in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International. AJWS did this as a funder of organizations that work to pursue safety, promote health and protect the human rights of people who chose sex work. Over the past two years, AJWS has granted over $1.3 million to 37 organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas that are dedicated to this work.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a huge victory in the battle against HIV/AIDS worldwide and for the human rights of people who chose sex work” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “Organizations fighting HIV/AIDS cannot take the necessary steps to address the epidemic if the funding available requires that they not work with people engaged in sex work. That is what the anti-prostitution pledge did – by adopting an organizational policy condemning prostitution, the pledge prevented organizations, like AJWS, who provide HIV/AIDS funding in the developing world, from reaching people who chose sex work.

“In many countries around the world, sex workers face violence and discrimination – with severe consequences for their health and human rights. They already face multiple barriers to accessing health services and information, including denial of treatment by health care providers. There is already widespread resistance from health workers, police and government officials to actively promote and protect the rights of sex workers. The anti-prostitution pledge added yet another barrier and more resistance for sex workers to overcome in order to receive the care they desperately need and deserve.

“While the focus of the case was on First Amendment rights, the public health and human rights implications are clear. In order to make progress in public health, human rights must be protected. The anti-prostitution pledge did not protect public health – it made it worse for the thousands of sex workers living in the developing world.

“I applaud the Supreme Court for upholding the First Amendment, and I thank the Open Society Foundation for leading the fight to overturn the pledge. Though I am deeply gratified by this decision, questions still remain about how this ruling will be implemented vis-a-vis foreign organizations. We urge that this ruling be upheld for all organizations, both domestic and international,” said Messinger.

Below are statements from AJWS grantees impacted by the ruling:

“I cannot tell you how relieved we are,” said Meena Seshu, general secretary of SANGRAM in Sangli, India. “The anti-prostitution pledge did not make any sense to us as a group that works on sex worker rights and on HIV/AIDS intervention. You cannot work for the rights of people or hope to end this epidemic without supporting sex workers. It’s just not possible. It’s not going happen.”

“We are indeed overjoyed that there has been this development in the US lifting the ban on prostitution,” said a representative of Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy in Uganda. “We believe injustice can never trump the public good and health. We are overjoyed to learn that funding for HIV and health services will reach at-risk populations that have been struck off the list for a long time. The time is now.”

For More Information

If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Tanyanika Davis, Director of Media Relations, at tdavis@ajws.org.