Statement on Prostitution and Curbing the Spread of HIV

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) calls on government agencies and the general public to examine the issue of prostitution and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in the broader socio-cultural, political and economic context, which integrates health/bio-medical and overall human development perspectives. Ultimately, these must be viewed as issues of human rights and dignity.

Women in Prostitution

The PCW views prostitution as an exploitative system that commodifies and dehumanizes women, men and children who are being victimized within the system. As a form of sexual exploitation, prostitution violates a person’s human rights. In providing instant sexual gratification for powerful ‘clientele’ who are mostly male, prostitution reinforces the subordinate status of the more vulnerable individuals who, more often than not, are women and children.

Women in prostitution, along with vagrants, are considered criminals under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) Article 202. The said law’s provisions that criminalize vagrancy were repealed last March, but provisions that count women in prostitution as criminals are still in force.

Since the 12th Congress, the PCW has been lobbying for a law that would completely repeal Article 202, as well as strengthen and strictly enforce Article 341 (White Slave Trade).

The PCW believes that Article 202 is anti-women as it penalizes women in prostitution without giving due regard to the reality of their exploitation and the dire social realities that led them to that line of work.

Decriminalization of prostituted persons, not legalization

Prostitution is a complex issue involving a host of socio-cultural, economic and political factors that result in the marginalization and subordination of the prostituted person. The Philippine Plan for Gender-Responsive Development (PPGD 1995-2025) encourages taking an integrated approach to prostitution, with the broad objective of recognition and protection of human rights as they apply to those victimized by the “sex sector” – the right to be human, the right not to be prostituted, the right to restitution and renewal, and the right to participation in social transformation.

We are advocating for the decriminalization of the prostituted persons so that they will no longer be arrested, treated and fined like criminals. The anti-prostitution bill in Congress, which we support, aims to address the system of prostitution through the shifting of criminal liability from the prostituted persons, to those who “buy” people exploited in prostitution and those who make profit from such transactions (e.g. pimps and establishments involved in prostitution). It calls for the establishment of support mechanisms for prostituted persons to get out of the system of prostitution; recognize that the road to recovery for survivors of prostitution is long and arduous; and that the government shall facilitate the provision of support services to victims such as psychosocial counseling for to help them in their healing process; legal assistance in order to seek redress against the perpetrators; and referral to appropriate training and other government programs that will open for them doors to economic opportunities.

Curbing the spread of HIV

Curbing the spread of HIV transmission entails a strategic response that look into the HIV and AIDS epidemic not only from a health and bio-medical perspective, but also from a social development and governance perspective.

The Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), which is the highest advisory, planning and policy-making body on HIV and AIDS, is now confronted with the recent change in the state of the epidemic in the Philippines: more males who have sex with males (MSM) and people who inject drugs (PWID) are being infected with the virus. An increase in the number of young people who get infected with the virus has also been recorded.

We should go beyond looking at prostitution as the reason for the spread of HIV, thereby placing greater risk of discrimination for the prostituted person. Instead, we should prioritize the implementation of existing laws and policies aimed at addressing HIV and AIDS. Funding support should also be given to programs on prevention of HIV as well as treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS. We need to consider going back to the basics of educating young people about HIV and AIDS through the schools and having public information campaign as we did in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

We also call on our mainstream media organizations to help PNAC in curbing the spread of HIV through proper public information on the basic A-B-C-D-E of AIDS Prevention: A-bstinence; B-e faithful (having a mutual monogamous relationship); C-areful sex (no exchange of body fluids); D-on’t share needles / sterilize needles; and E-ducation and information.

Empowering our people

Finally, we want to emphasize that we are not in favor of legalizing prostitution.

Women, men and children will be better protected from abuse, discrimination and HIV infection if they are provided with proper training and economic opportunities that will empower them to have better career choices. Public information campaigns aimed at discouraging people, especially the youth from indulging in risky behaviors and lifestyle that will make them vulnerable to HIV infection, should also be prioritized.

Programs that provide restitution and renewal for an alternative lifestyle and livelihood for the prostituted person should be put in place instead of the punitive measures that classify her as a criminal, as these only lead to further discrimination and abuse. These recommendations should go hand in hand with the prosecution of agents, recruiters, traffickers, pimps, procurers, establishment owners, customers and others who derive sexual gratification, financial gain and advancement, or any other benefit from the prostitution of others.