Punishing Sex Workers Won’t Curb HIV/AIDS, Says Ban-Ki Moon

Melissa Ditmore

Add United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the list of people who understand that arresting and punishing sex workers is counter-productive in the battle against HIV/AIDS. And take the government of Cambodia off that list.

Add United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the list of
people who understand that arresting and punishing sex workers is
counter-productive in the battle against HIV/AIDS. And take the government of Cambodia off that list.

The
Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy wrote to Ban in June to
applaud his statement commending the findings of a March report that
favored decriminalizing sex work. The Report of the Commission on AIDS
in Asia noted that sex workers are part of the solution to preventing
the spread of HIV, and advised countries to "avoid programs that
accentuate AIDS-related stigma and can be counterproductive. Such
programs may include ‘crack-downs’ on red-light areas and arrest of
sex workers."

To express their gratitude for
this understanding, sex workers and advocates circulated a statement at
the June 11-12 UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS as Ban spoke to the
gathering in New York. "Sex workers thank [Ban] for his support of
their efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic," the statement said.

The
March report strongly advised countries to enlist sex workers in the
effort to prevent the spread of HIV. It included firm recommendations
against punitive measures targeting sex work and other frowned-upon
behaviors, on the grounds that such approaches have proven
counter-productive. The UN Secretary-General supported these
recommendations in his statement and sex workers everywhere are
grateful.

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Unfortunately, some governments
continue to deny reality.

Under pressure from the United States,
Cambodia outlawed prostitution in February. The government’s promotion
of a "no condoms, no sex" program in legal brothels there had
succeeded in reducing HIV infection rates, but now those brothels have
closed or gone underground, along with bars, karaoke clubs and street
areas. Hundreds of women have been arrested, jailed or displaced, while
dozens have been raped and beaten by police and prison guards. The HIV prevention and care programs that were working have collapsed.

The new law, ironically named the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Law, is a failure in every way. It encourages
trafficking and exploitation because it makes sex workers easier prey:
the workers can no longer seek clients in public and must depend upon
others to introduce them. Worse, police now use condoms as evidence of
prostitution, so sex workers can no longer use them. We can expect to
see HIV rates rise as a result.

The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia acknowledged in an article in The International Herald Tribune that
U.S. influence played a part in the passage of this dangerous law. The
annual U.S. Trafficking In Persons Report ranks countries on their
efforts to end the practice according to U.S. perception, with those
low on the list risking economic sanctions.

By passing the law,
Cambodia moved up from the "Tier 2 watch list" to "Tier 2" and thus
evaded sanctions. But
is U.S. aid worth the cost in sex workers’ lives and in lost ground
against HIV/AIDS?

Sex workers in Cambodia protested the new law on June
4, calling for repeal and an end to raids. "Don’t be fooled by talk of
rescuing ‘sex slaves’ until you have heard our testimonials and seen
video evidence of the brutality and misery this new law is causing,"
their statement said (watch the video below).

Sex
workers and their allies also protested the new law at the Cambodian
Mission to the United Nations in New York on June 11, during the
High-Level Meeting on AIDS. Further demonstrations are planned in the
United Kingdom and Australia.

Cambodian sex workers call for a repeal of the trafficking law passed by the Cambodian government under pressure from the US government.

UPDATE at 10:54am: Detained sex workers in Cambodia were released on June 24, 2008

Sex workers documented human rights abuses and sought local and international support in their campaign against these violations. Supporters have been invaluable. The next steps include continued support for changing the law that led to these abuses, as well as immediate care and assistance for those who were abused in detention.

“Egg-as-Person” Backers Call Out Conservative Wimps

Wendy Norris

Proponents of Colorado's "egg as a person" initiative have just one month left to submit petitions to the Colorado secretary of state to certify the measure for the Nov. 4 ballot. Now, in the frenzy of the signature-gathering push the campaign is taking a decidedly more aggressive tone -- toward its own.

Colorado for Equal Rights (CER) has added another ultra-conservative ally in its push for a state constitutional amendment to confer legal rights on fertilized human eggs.

In a new video featured on the CER Web site (see below), Michael Hichborn, a spokesman for the American Life League, criticizes the Denver Post for mischaracterizing the proposed constitutional amendment as "an attempt to extend the legal protections of personhood to an egg." Hichborn continues sarcastically, "News flash to the Denver Post. Humans don't lay eggs. But we do make babies …" while a picture of a baby pops out of a giant chicken egg replete with clucking hen and egg-breaking sound effects.

Kristi Burton, the 20-year-old correspondence law school student from Peyton, Colo., and founder of CER, complains in her brief on-camera segment that fellow conservatives have cold feet about the timing of the initiative.

Hichborn follows suit and drives home the point in no uncertain terms:

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"Now, amazingly there are those that claim that now is not the right time for a personhood amendment. The old saying attributed to Edmund Burke 'All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing' is well applied to those standing on the sidelines because they decided to do just what Burke warned against. They're simply doing nothing. And while they sit on their hands waiting — organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood and NOW are working to ensure another 35 years of killing babies."

Insulting one's target audience is a curious strategy to employ when, according to an April 6 news story in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Burton remarked that her group has collected just 60,000 of the 76,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the Colorado ballot. The deadline for submitting the petitions is May 14.

In addition to ALL, Burton's group has solicited the support of other ultra-conservative groups that don't mince words.

American Right to Life Action, a new Denver-based group, aims to upend National Right to Life, the standard-bearer antiabortion organization, which the young upstart views as too timid in its fight against "wicked courts" and "child-killing regulations." CER's petition coordinator and latest spokesman, Keith Mason, hails from Operation Rescue in Wichita, Kan., scene of some of the most strident protests in the nation.

Despite the tame wording, the measure appears to be an attempt to exploit the long-held belief by abortion foes that the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision never addressed the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment. By conferring state constitutional rights on a fertilized egg, antiabortion activists hope to chip away at the Roe decision.

Opponents argue that the ballot wording is overly broad and could be interpreted to outlaw abortion and some contraceptives that interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus — a key point in the dispute because a free-floating zygote does not meet the scientific definition of pregnancy since upwards of 50 percent of these cells do not naturally implant.

An ex-spokesman for CER confirmed the overarching goals to end abortion and curb hormone-based contraceptive use in press statements last summer but the group has since backed off making those claims in public.