Biden’s Department of Justice Stands Up Against Tennessee Law Criminalizing Knowing Transmission of HIV by Sex Workers


The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee over its aggravated prostitution law, claiming that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law was passed in 1991. It imposes harsher penalties on prostitutes who engage in their work while knowingly infected with HIV. The crime is raised from a misdemeanor to a felony for individuals infected with HIV engaging in sexual activity for business purposes. In addition, the guilty party must register for life as a “violent sex offender.” They could also face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The DOJ’s lawsuit contends that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Assistance Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said that enforcing state criminal laws based solely on HIV status violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The DOJ lawsuit targets the Tennessee law after finding that it was discriminatory, and that negotiations with the state have declined. This is not the first time the law has been challenged. Multiple organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Memphis last year. They argued that the law disproportionately affects black and transgender prostitutes who knowingly engage in sexual acts for pay while infected with HIV. The DOJ lawsuit cites a particular victim of the Tennessee prostitution law, a black transgender woman who was arrested for prostitution near a church or school.