Let’s Talk About Sex (Workers)

Let’s hear it for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Really. In a decision yesterday, they defended the right to speak freely about sex workers and in so doing will help us fight HIV/AIDS.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, families, communities, and government have been forced to have difficult conversations about messy topics. Those most in need of HIV treatment and prevention are also people deemed criminals around the world: sex workers, drug users, and men who have sex with men. The U.S. global AIDS program, unhelpfully, asks funding recipients to take a pledge to “oppose prostitution” as a condition of getting funding. While it is unclear what this means—must you send them to jail or simply speak ill of them?—it has prevented debate and discussion where it is most needed.

The Court of Appeals agrees. Yesterday, an appellate court affirmed that the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech, including the right to debate, have opinions, or have no opinion at all on the subject of prostitution. In making this decision, they took into account that the debate about prostitution is integral to fighting HIV/AIDS. There are differences of opinion and we need to discuss them. Putting a muzzle on funding recipients violates the U.S. Constitution and undermines our global health programs. Unfortunately, the decision only provides protection to U.S. groups. Foreign NGOs don’t have first amendment protections and are still gagged.

Here are excerpts from the opinion:

The right to communicate freely on such matters of public concern lies at the heart of the First Amendment. The Policy Requirement offends that principle, mandating that Plaintiffs affirmatively espouse the government’s position on a contested public issue where the differences are both real and substantive. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have recognized advocating for the reduction of penalties for prostitution—to prevent such penalties from interfering with outreach efforts—as among the best practices for HIV/AIDS prevention.

The government has, by compelling NGOs to affirmatively pledge their opposition to prostitution, stepped beyond what might have been appropriate to ensure that its anti-prostitution message would not be "garbled" or “distorted.”

We do not mean to imply that the government may never require affirmative, viewpoint-specific speech as a condition of participating in a federal program. To use an example supplied by Defendants, if the government were to fund a campaign urging children to “Just Say No” to drugs, we do not doubt that it could require grantees to state that they oppose drug use by children. But in that scenario, the government’s program is, in effect, its message. That is not so here. The stated purpose of the Leadership Act is to fight HIV/AIDS, as well as tuberculosis, and malaria. Defendants cannot now recast the Leadership Act’s global HIV/AIDS-prevention program as an anti-prostitution messaging campaign.

The very excellent attorneys at the Brennan Center who successfully argued the case have much more information on their website. But be warned, your new ability to talk about sex won’t necessarily make it sexy.

Learn More:



Dear colleagues,
I would like to thank you for informing us about the initiatives on sex free talking with the aim to prevent the HIV and other Sexual Transsmited Diseases.
I hold the position of Executive Director of Association for Prevention and Rehabilitation from Aids and Drugs, Tirana, Albania and one the main program is to prevent HIV/AIDS among MSM, CSW in Tirana, Albania.

Thank you for your discussion.

I believe to have the freedom to communicate about one's opinion vs making a decision on giving resources to someone who has a difference of opinion are two totally different foundations.

Prostitution is one of the top ways that AIDS is spread and easily. To not oppose it, would be to encourage a culture/idea that . To give money to an organization that fundamentally contradicts their mission is not a wise choice.

The worldwide movement to end sex slavery, has been hard at work establishing protection over individuals engaged in prostitution. That they would be treated as victims, not criminals. Some of the most passionate leaders, organizations, and abolitionists I have met highly oppose prostitution, but have a deep care for the individuals in prostitution and would not speak ill of them. I am certain that those that work hard to serve and save those with AIDS, that spend their whole lives on it and studying/researching intensely, can have legitimacy for opposing prostitution enough to not wish to put money towards those that fail to seek out the truth of its affect on the individual and society specifically when it comes to the spread of AIDS.

Second, to oppose prostitution, would mean to oppose prostitution.

[uh-pohz] Show IPA
verb, -posed, -pos·ing.
–verb (used with object)
to act against or provide resistance to; combat.
to stand in the way of; hinder; obstruct.
to set as an opponent or adversary.

[pros-ti-too-shuhn, -tyoo-] Show IPA
the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money.
base or unworthy use, as of talent or ability.

To oppose prostitution would mean to put the person in highest regard, that they are 1. worthy of something better than selling their body in the form of sex for money and 2. that sex itself is held in the highest regard, that it must to be quite sacred.

So the act of prostitution in not worthy of the individual, because the individual itself is worthy of so much more than just having sex just to make money.

Unfortunately, opposing prostitution has been executed in very 'ugly' dishonoring ways that contradicts what it means to oppose prostitution as mentioned in the article, 'jailing or ill-treating' those in prostitution. And that must be utterly eradicated.

However, I do think that women in all their glory to achieve equality and standing in society, have in fact failed to realize that their worth is the one thing that cannot be taken away by any other and has been there always. Yet we still desire to throw it away or are told we don't have it so we leave it out of our actions. To have that worth recognized by ourselves and the world, oh what a beautiful thing that is. We must fight for our worth to be recognized. That is what it means to truly be equal and have a special place in society--it is to have that worth fully acknowledged and cherished by ourselves and others. Equality and our rights come at that moment.

I too pity any person who has to end up carying out acts of prostituition in order to survive,however i feel it is important to legalize prostituition in order to protect women from abuse.

We can all hang our heads in shame as a result in wich prostituites have been and continue to be abused.They get raped,physicaly abused,robed and often murdered.

Most prostituites work only as means to end in their miserable lives.

prostituition should have been legalized thousands of years ago.The abuse on prostituites is disgusting and inhumane.

That is good news! Thank-you for posting!

There are so many people out there that are being treated poorly, not just Prostitutes. At least if Prostituition was legal there would be less of a problem. I am for the states that leagalize Prostituition. The women (yes,women) have chosen this method as their job.. at least they are working. In EVERY backyard there will be something that sounds terrible, is terrible and needs "fixed".

One other note..I don't understand why two people of the same sex who are in love are not aloud to get married. So sad since it is beautiful in this cold world. Love is beautiful.

I think people who call themselves "Christian" would be able to rejoyce in love no matter what sex is involved.

Add your voice