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U.S. funding for sex work?

At AIDS 2012, advocates of sex-worker rights, often carrying red umbrellas, the symbol of their crusade, chanted, “Sex workers’ rights are human rights” and “Sex work is work.”

They cheered Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, because she introduced a bill to remove “anti-prostitution” language from the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. Those funds currently cannot be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking, and groups funded by the plan must have policies explicitly opposing such “abusive and dehumanizing” practices.

Ms. Overs told the conference that even new HIV “treatment-as-prevention” efforts, which nearly everyone else at the conference hailed, put prostitutes at risk by preventing them from insisting on condom use.

She said condoms also protect prostitutes from pregnancy and diseases other than HIV, but the anti-AIDS policy of providing people who engage in high-risk behavior with daily anti-HIV pills has resulted in potential clients writing happily on the Internet that “the HIV pill will liberate them from rubber.”

A video posted Tuesday shows advocates of sex-worker rights telling leaders of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law that legal and safety provisions would protect them from police, who, under the cover of law, strip-search, rob, rape and torture them.

“We want to be recognized as human beings,” said Miriam Edwards of the Guyana Sex Work Coalition.

“Let’s stop being hypocrites and start doing what we have to do,” said Elena Eva Reynaga, who represents Latin American sex workers.

U.S. immigration law prohibits foreign sex workers from entering the country. But Ms. Overs said the next AIDS conference, to be held in 2014 in Melbourne, Australia, will be much more welcoming of sex workers.

Sex work is legal in Melbourne and more reforms are under way, she said, so “Australia’s in a very good position to decriminalize sex work without any of the backlash that you get in other countries.”