Patron of D.C. Madam Accused of Hypocrisy
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Let's dig down to get one more layer of the story of State Department official Randall Tobias. He's the official who resigned after his name appeared on the telephone list of a woman charged with running a call-girl ring. Mr. Tobias acknowledged using the service, but denied it was for sex. In any case, his involvement probably got a lot more attention than it would have because Tobias was enforcing laws against prostitution, laws that AIDS advocates are fighting.
NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.
BRENDA WILSON: In order to receive funding under the president's AIDS Relief Program, organizations have to pledge to fight prostitution and sex trafficking. The law was passed by Congress in 2002, before Randall Tobias arrived at the State Department. Even critics of the policy like Dan Pellegrom, the head of Pathfinder International, didn't think Tobias was that enthusiastic about it.
Mr. DAN PELLEGROM (President, Pathfinder International): I don't know that he was the engineer of the policy. My sense is that he was the principal apologist for it, but it was a policy formed, I think, in the final analysis in the Congress.
WILSON: In haste, most observers say, conservatives in the House attached the prostitution pledge to a funding bill for the $15 billion global AIDS program. President Bush was hosting the G-8 Summit and Congress wanted to be able to offer it as a testament to U.S. generosity and as a counterpoint to its policy in Iraq.
Pellegrom and other groups filed suit, arguing that the pledge against prostitution requires them to condemn the very people they have to work with to fight AIDS. The suits are ongoing. Pellegrom says the pledges had a chilling effect on people who do AIDS work in developing countries.
Mr. PELLEGROM: They get very confused with complicated policies that come to them in a foreign language. The fear that they have that they would do something that transgresses with regard to their funding source is a terrible fear for them. So they, in fact, almost over-police themselves.
WILSON: Adrienne Germain is the director of the International Women's Health Coalition. She says the prostitution pledge went beyond the groups who received U.S. AIDS funding to countries appealing for assistance.
Ms. ADRIENNE GERMAIN (Director, International Women's Health Coalition): In India, where prostitution has been neither legal nor illegal, it has had the direct consequence of leading the Ministry of Women's Affairs to propose a new bill that would make various dimensions of prostitution illegal. That immediately created news headlines, debate in the communities of the most vicious kind, about primarily "the women," quote unquote, who are engaged in this kind of quote, "degradation," unquote.
WILSON: Germain says that America's approach to sexuality and public policy has just made the fight against AIDS more difficult.
Ms. GERMAIN: Criminalizing prostitution and the use of prostitutes, only one of the many sexual behaviors that people indulge in, is not going to end it; it only drives it underground and makes it more dangerous.
WILSON: But anti-trafficking groups say that there is a better chance of ending the sex trade if health workers are required to fight it. Donna Hughes, a University of Rhode Island professor of women's studies, says the U.S. government has the right to impose a condition on funding.
Professor DONNA HUGHES (Women's Studies, University of Rhode Island): It doesn't say that you can't give out condoms. It doesn't say that you can't provide treatment. It simply says that you cannot use U.S. government funds to support prostitution as a legitimate form of work for women.
WILSON: One of the complaints has been that the law is so vague it's hard to know exactly what supporting prostitution means.
Brenda Wilson, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.