"Although encouraging progress has been made in stabilizing HIV prevalence and promoting condom use among workers in sex work," the report states,
"substantially greater gains will be needed to halve the sexual transmission of HIV among sex workers by 2015."
There are women like Ms. Stevens all over the world.
Forcing non-profit organizations that are doing AIDS prevention and treatment work to explicitly condemn prostitution may lead sex workers to stay away
from services for fear of stigma or worse, prosecution. Further, service providers at these organizations
know that part of their job entails having frank conversations about the realities of prostitution and their potential implications
for the AIDS pandemic.
Having to explicitly state opposition to prostitution as a condition of funding may prevent those discussions from happening. These providers grapple with
how to keep all populations safe, not just those engaging in legal and socially desirable behavior. As a result, the very people who need the most
access to HIV preventive and treatment measures may not receive them, driving them even deeper underground.
As principal investigator of the Health, Hardship, and Renewal Study, my team and I have
interviewed more than 100 women living with HIV/AIDS in the Chicago area. Not all women living with HIV have a history of sex work, nor do all sex workers
have HIV/AIDS. But more than 20 percent of the women we interviewed found themselves turning to sex work at some point in their lives to make ends meet or
while in the throes of drug addiction.
Ms. Stevens was one of those women.
What proved critical for the women that we studied to get clean, find other ways to feed their families, and proactively manage their health was their
access to HIV/AIDS non-profit organizations that offered HIV testing, helpful information to protect themselves and avoid spreading the virus to others,
and a network of supporters to assist them every step of the way. Fortunately, HIV organizations operating in the U.S. have not been required to make an
anti-prostitution pledge to receive federal funding.
But imagine if upon entering these institutions, often scared and stigmatized, women like Gina encountered messages that explicitly condemned their
behavior and implicitly suggested that they were not welcome to come through the door. Numerous opportunities to test and diagnose; educate about safe sex
practices; and offer economic, medical, and social support that could be life-changing would be lost as the women turned around and headed the other way.
By the time we met her, Ms. Stevens had completed a drug rehabilitation program, was no longer engaged in sex work, and had found long-term housing with
the help of several HIV/AIDS organizations in the city. She now works as a server at a restaurant, making $800-$1,000 a month plus tips.