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Whitman-Walker Clinic’s outreach to male sex workers is pathetically inadequate (“Professional Hazard,” 12/5). This program is just a publicity stunt aimed at impressing the clinic’s funding sources.
That the clinic’s outreach workers have trouble locating male prostitutes is preposterous. Street hustlers are few but conspicuous. Moreover, each week the Washington Blade publishes the phone numbers of most male prostitutes in escort ads. If the clinic’s workers don’t call them to establish communication, that shows lack of commitment.
The clinic’s program of safer-sex kits and a discussion group for male prostitutes is simplistic. The vast majority of male prostitutes are poorly educated and live at the poverty level. Most are substance abusers. Their priority is making quick money for immediate survival, whatever it takes. Whitman-Walker’s condoms and meetings appear irrelevant to the average hustler.
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Whitman-Walker neglects prostitutes for the same reason it minimizes prevention of infectious diseases. AIDS is a huge industry supported by pharmaceuticals, government, and other sources. But HIV prevention scarcely attracts funding. While the clinic is a nonprofit, its employees collect profitable salaries by focusing on AIDS case management. Put simply, AIDS case management provides much better career opportunities than HIV prevention.
Obviously, the public suffers from this neglect for prevention. For example, there are about 125 male prostitutes in this area. Even if all of them always use condoms, the facts are that condoms sometimes break and sometimes are inherently defective. Inevitably, a significant number of hustlers with transmittable diseases will infect many people.
Consequently, genuine HIV prevention requires reducing the number of hustlers. Condoms and meetings are not enough. Male prostitutes already have generous access to free condoms from gay bars and tricks. But most hustlers need substance abuse programs, drug-free housing, and job training. Without such rehabilitation, they will continue endangering themselves and others.
From its $15-million budget, Whitman-Walker assigned merely $8,500 for outreach to hustlers. This token amount buys the clinic statistics of condom distribution and meetings, which help perpetuate its overhyped image as an all-purpose provider of HIV/AIDS services. Let’s not be fooled by this cynical publicity stunt.