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ACF Pushes Failed Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Program in Native American Communities

On September 5, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announced that the Family and Youth Services Bureau would encourage Native American Tribes to apply for Fiscal Year 2009 Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds. [i] Interestingly, this letter arrived three days after the deadline to submit applications for Fiscal Year 2009 Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding had passed.

In the letter distributed to Tribal Leaders, the agency wrote: “Section 510 funds are awarded only to States. Yet Tribes can nonetheless apply to their respective states for abstinence education funding. Even if they reside in states that are not currently accepting section 510 money, Tribes can petition and encourage their respective state(s) to accept the money so that Tribes and tribal organizations do not lose out on their fair share of these important social service resources.”

The letter describes Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as, “activities and programs that states fund [that] include but are not limited to adult and peer mentoring, school-based programs as well community sessions open to both parents and teens.” Nowhere in the letter does it mention the eight point federal definition of “abstinence education” which greatly restricts the use of the funds. Among other things, this definition requires programs to teach that “ a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity,” and that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

Finally, the letter goes on to call Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds “indispensable tools to the social programs that serve your people.” In reality, Native Americans face social, economic, and language barriers to achieving sexual health. Members of these communities need accurate, culturally sensitive information in order to be able to make fully informed decisions about their health. [ii]

The abstinence-only-until-marriage industry has long had its targets set on expanding into tribes as more and more states withdrew from federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. For example, in the documentary Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque, the Abstinence Clearinghouse’s Leslee Unruh specifically mentioned her organization’s efforts to recruit Native American communities into adopting its strict abstinence approach. [iii] 

“This is the second attempt in less than a month by the ACF to trick the states into applying for Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “ACF is trying to drag already vulnerable communities into the failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which shows just how desperate the Bush administration is to get this money out the door.”

[i] Scott Riggins, Administration for Children and Families, “Letter to Tribal Leaders,” 5 September 2008.
[ii] Advocates for Youth, “HIV and Young American Indian/Alaska Native Women,” accessed 15 September 2008,
[iii] Charles C. Stuart. Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque, 2006,