The NAE’s Office of Government Affairs submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services regarding a proposed rule that would weaken restrictions on PEPFAR grantees’ policies and practices regarding prostitution and sexual trafficking.
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), representing more than 45,000 congregations in 40 denominations in all 50 states, and with humanitarian and missionary service programs in more than 170 countries, respectfully requests that the proposed rule “Organizational Integrity of Entities Implementing Leadership Act Programs and Activities” be withdrawn.

Member bodies of the NAE are actively involved in programs of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support, as well as programs assisting those trapped by sexual trafficking and prostitution. Our members appreciate the U.S. government’s strong message of opposition to sexual trafficking and prostitution, which has been repeatedly affirmed by large bipartisan majorities in the Congress. HHS’s existing regulations appropriately implement this commitment.

The proposed rule would weaken this commitment in several ways:

1. Qualifying opposition to prostitution and sexual trafficking with the addition of the phrase “because of the psychological and physical risks they pose for women, men and children.” This opens the door for grant recipients to argue that they support legalization of prostitution or sexual trafficking as a strategy for reducing psychological or physical risks to those involved, or that they support prostitution or sexual trafficking in jurisdictions where they are already legal. We reject the argument that legalized prostitution or sexual trafficking is ever free of harm to its victims. If the proposed rule is not withdrawn, we urge that the phrase “because of the psychological and physical risks they pose for women, men and children” be deleted.

2. Weakening the requirement that grant recipients be legally separate and independent from any affiliated organization that supports prostitution or sexual trafficking. The current rule is clear and easy to monitor. The propose rule creates new gray areas in which federal funds are at risk of promoting questionable and contradictory messages at odds with U.S. government policy. Further, the rule claims to create miniscule savings to recipients, but would in fact create a new and potentially costly regulatory burden for government, by requiring a case by case analysis of each grant recipient’s relationship with objectionable affiliates. Either this requirement will substantially increase government monitoring costs, or it will be ignored, effectively eviscerating the rule. In any cases, organizations seeking to exploit this new gray area will probably incur legal costs and risks far in excess of the current reporting burden.

3. Removing the requirement for an explicit, affirmative policy statement by grant recipients against prostitution and sexual trafficking. By burying even the weakened government policy in grant announcement and grant agreement documents, without requiring separate documentation certifying the organization’s policy against prostitution, it is more likely that the policy will be effectively ignored by both recipients and federal officials.

For these reasons the NAE believes that the proposed rule will be detrimental to the furtherance of the U.S. government’s objective of fighting HIV/AIDS, sexual trafficking and prostitution. We therefore urge that the proposed rule be withdrawn.