The 28Feb07 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the U.S. government may enforce a policy that groups receiving certain federal grants to fight AIDS and human trafficking must declare that they will not promote prostitution.
The government’s brief summarizes the case: “It would make little sense for the government to provide billions of dollars to encourage the reduction of HIV/AIDS behavioral risks, including prostitution and sex trafficking, and yet to engage as partners in this effort organizations that are neutral toward or even actively promote the same practices sought to be eradicated.”
The CMA last year had authored a joint letter to President Bush, signed by over 100 women’s, health and policy organizations, and personally delivered to the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor, urging him to protect victims of sexual trafficking by upholding the policy.
“As healthcare professionals, we recognize the harm that prostitution inflicts on its victims,” noted CMA CEO David Stevens, M.D.
“That harm is made even more horrific when a woman or child is prostituted and enslaved. We know from the research that prostitution spreads AIDS and accounts for much of human trafficking worldwide.
“Incredible as it seems, there are groups out there that instead of rescuing these victims would employ a so-called ‘harm reduction’ approach of simply distributing condoms or advice. That’s totally inappropriate for sex slaves, most of whom are children and women. We totally support the government’s policy, which promotes an abolitionist approach that opposes prostitution as inherently harmful and degrading, and actively supports the rescue and restoration of sexually exploited individuals.
“The groups that would refuse to sign a commitment not to promote prostitution sued the government for a violation of their free speech rights.
“Thankfully, the Court said the First Amendment guarantees free speech, but it does not guarantee free government grants.
“And what about the free speech rights of the victims of prostitution and human trafficking?
“We are celebrating the 200-year anniversary of the abolishing of the slave trade in Britain. As we celebrate that monumental struggle for freedom, we must recommit to abolishing the slave trade that flourishes underground in our own country and around the world today.
“Healthcare professionals should be at the forefront of that abolitionist movement.”
CMA leaders have met with top officials in the White House, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to promote strategies to educate healthcare professionals, including a meeting at the White House involving leaders of medical specialty groups.
Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, who serves as CMA’s Health Consultant for Human Trafficking, has developed educational materials that carry Continuing Medical Education credit for healthcare professionals.
Dr. Barrows said, “One study showed that 28 percent of trafficking victims studied had encountered a healthcare professional during their captivity. Yet not a single healthcare professional reported a suspected trafficking victim.
“If we can educate healthcare professionals to recognize and report trafficking victims, we will see a dramatic increase in the number of victims rescued.
“A healthcare worker who is caring for individuals who have been forced into prostitution has an ethical responsibility to attempt to rescue those individuals from their enslavement once they become aware of that enslavement.
“A healthcare worker or researcher who fails to do so has failed to recognize and uphold the basic human right that all individuals have regarding freedom and liberty.
“Treating the health issues that come from forced prostitution without treating its cause is like treating a burn patient without getting them out of the fire.”
[Christian Medical Association (www.cmda.org)Washington, DC, February 28, 2007, J. Imbody]