Many US-based AIDS groups that have programs overseas are praising a judge’s decision affecting federal AIDS funding. Federal Judge Victor Marrero struck down a policy that required the groups to formally denounce prostitution before being eligible to receive US funds.
The policy was based on a 2003 law that supporters say was designed to curb risky sexual behavior. However, on Tuesday Judge Marrero ruled the policy violated free the speech rights protected by the US Constitution.
Among those praising the decision is Dan Pellegrom, president of Pathfinder International, a non-profit family planning and reproductive health organization. From Watertown, Massachusetts, Pellegrom spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about how the policy had affected the organization’s programs, including those in Africa.
He says, “First of all, it’s not very smart, we think, to have a policy that is critical of people that you’re perceived as trying to help. It’s not the way that anybody would do their business. To say that you disapprove of them and then to proceed to work with them is a problem. And of course if you’re going to do HIV/AIDS work, it’s terribly important to do that work, including prostitution. They’re (prostitutes) are a key element in protecting people, not only themselves, but their clients and their clients’ families from the (HIV) virus. So, it’s terribly important to have an unimpeded kind of relationship with the people that you’re working with. And this got in the way of that.”
Asked if there is a general misunderstanding or misconception about who becomes a prostitute and why in poor countries, Pellegrom replies, “Sure, I think that people don’t understand often times that the issue for women who become prostitutes is very often that they’re the most destitute people in their societies. And they’re desperate to feed their children. They’re desperate to care for their families. They resort to prostitution, not because they want to but because they’re compelled to. They don’t know where else to turn. They’re desperate people very often and to treat them sort of with an ideological imprint is unfortunate. We should treat them, if you will, I think as victims and not as culprits."