Denial of Service: Sex Workers Confront Dr. Eric Goosby and Protest the Anti-Prostitution Pledge

Since the opening plenary for the International AIDS Conference (IAC) on Sunday, July 18th, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) has been a vocal and visible presence at the conference. NSWP members have challenged both policy makers and funding agencies to break with the status quo, which perpetuates institutional violence and violation of sex worker’s human rights that lead to a higher rates of HIV infection and death.

On Tuesday, July 20th, NSWP organized sex workers and allies to disrupt a speech by United States Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby to demand justice for sex workers harmed by PEPFAR’s discriminatory anti-prostitution loyalty oath.

Download the NSWP press release about the protest, a one page English PDF, here.

Here are some reports from NSWP activists who were there:

“On Tuesday, July 20 sex workers’ rights activists marched through the IAC conference centre to protest the PEPFAR Anti Prostitution Pledge at a session at which was to be a presenter. Eric Goosby cancelled his speech to avoid the sex workers and instead held a press conference in the media centre. Sex worker activists followed him there, where we loudly accused him of murdering sex workers and preventing the crucial funding for sex workers. Everyone was upset and challenging him to be responsible and support human rights for all. I sat on the table with my red umbrella and screamed that he was a murderer, and everyone was chanting “SHAME SHAME SHAME!!!!” He tried to escape and fell from his chair, and then he was helped to his feet by security and escorted out. The media stayed in the room and sex workers were venting their issues of concern. For example, in Uganda the only funding is for rehabilitation and there is NO money for condoms. In Kenya there is no funding for necessary sex worker support services, only rehabilitation. All who receive money from USAID’s PEPFAR fund have to sign an anti-prostitution loyalty oath. We left chanting, “sex workers united will never be defeated!!! PEPFAR kills sex workers!!!”

Cheryl Overs, Paulo Longo Research Institute, Asia and the Pacific Region

Watch a video of the protest, featuring some of the sex workers’ chants and impassioned speeches from Kyomya Macklean, of the Ugandan sex worker group WONETHA, and John Mathenge, a male sex worker from Kenya.

“After we chased Goosby out of the press conference room, sex workers from around the world took over the microphones and held their own press conference while the whole world was watching and declared that we will follow Goosby to every presentation he makes until he answers for the crimes of PEPFAR’s anti-prostitution pledge.”

Will Rockwell, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, North America Region

“The protesters toured the Center for Media, carrying red umbrellas and placards with slogans. One of the interviewees was the prostitute [Kyomya] Macklean, Uganda: “We want respect, recognition, social inclusion, and dialogue with our political leaders. And we can’t do all this without funding. “

After a few minutes, everyone was ushered out of the Center for Media, but continued to move through the wide corridors of the Convention Center, moving in the direction of the Global Village. The group celebrated the impact of the action at the booth of the Global Network of Sex Work (NSWP), which promoted the protest.

Sex workers from around the world demand that the U.S. funds to fight AIDS, via USAID’s PEPFAR program, do not discriminate. It is essential to support sex worker organizations in order to strengthen HIV prevention.”

Flavio Lenz, Davida, Latin America Region

Editor’s note: Flavio’s statement is based on a rough translation using the Google translate tool. Click here for the original version in Portuguese.

Four years ago in 2006, at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, NSWP member Melissa Ditmore and journalist Erin Siegal collected footage and interviews for a short film on PEPFAR and how it harms sex workers – not much has changed. Watch the thirteen minute film, Taking the Pledge, here.

6 Responses

  1. No funding for condoms? hmmmm I buy my own. Maybe this meant that they do not fund for programs to give out condoms to the men??? We do not get money here in the U.S. for anything having to do with sex work. Everyone I know pays taxes though. Perhaps over there it is legal and there are funds?

    Obviously, I am not educated regarding what goes on in other countries for the ladies who provide sexual services, but as a sex worker in the USA, I am paid ,and therefore I purchase tools of the trade (condoms, etc.) with what I EARN. It is just a given. I pay for my own ads too- I wonder how it is done there… Internet ads? street corners? fliers stuck on bullentin boards? and yes, I am going to research it because now I have to know, lol.

  2. The situation for most sex workers in developing nations (where the most vulnerable sex workers work on the street or in brothels) is VERY different than it is in the US. In many places, condoms are not easily accessible in pharmacies like they are here, or you can only buy them if you are married. Condoms are often in very short supply, and there is much stigma around obtaining them.

    The funds indicated in this post are for organizations that provide health and social services for sex workers, which include distribution of free condoms, HIV and STI testing, sex education, and legal advocacy services. Many non-profit and service organizations fill in the gaps where governments fail their citizens, and most governments don’t just fail sex workers, but actively abuse and oppress us. These organizations need funding and support to keep doing their work, and much of the funding comes from international agencies – the US government is one of the biggest donors for programs that address HIV. However, that money isn’t available for groups that help sex workers.

  3. Lets just clarify a few points of departure regarding the United States,
    Its not illegal to work as a prostitute in the USA however, state criminalization of prostitution laws result in condoms, our safety devise, being used as evidence of a crime and confiscated. Then there’s the federal Occupational Health and Safety Agency that allows states like California to make legal erotic labor, like porn and exotic dancing regulate mandatory condom use….

    All the while, the US is actively coercing poor countries to agree to discriminate against prostitutes while distributing condoms by banning them from speaking to us as we’re human beings.

    So yes HIV prevention activist ought to call on US officials to remove the use of this oath as precursor to getting funding for condoms because it’s discriminatory. And yes those of us who can afford our own condoms ought to add our voices to ending this discrimination.

    And in the mean time, it would the most helpful too all women and men, if American prostitutes in this country could act within our own agency and free ourselves by removing the gag order that we live under; the anti prostitution laws.

  4. [...] at The Curvature covered this issue very well, Mother Jones reported on it recently, and BNG has covered it as well.  All the recent coverage is due to (as the BNG post explains) a very successful sex worker-led [...]

  5. [...] Gender Across Borders, The Curvature, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Bound Not Gagged, and Harlots’ [...]

  6. [...] Denial of Service: Sex Workers Confront Dr. Eric Goosby and Protest the Anti-Prostitution Pledg… [...]

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