President Joe Biden

Biden Admin Sues Tennessee Over Law Penalizing Prostitutes For Knowingly Spreading HIV

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (File) By Kate Anderson, DCNF.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee on Thursday, arguing that a law penalizing prostitutes for spreading the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a prohibited form of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Tennessee’s law defines “aggravated prostitution,” which is a felony, as when an individual knowingly “engages in sexual activity as a business or is an inmate in a house of prostitution or loiters in a public place for the purpose of being hired to engage in sexual activity” despite being aware that they have HIV.

The DOJ argues that the law violates the ADA because prostitutes should not be charged with “more severe criminal sanctions because of their disability,” according to the complaint.

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“The enforcement of state criminal laws that treat people differently based on HIV status alone and that are not based on actual risks of harm, discriminate against people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release. “People living with HIV should not be subjected to a different system of justice based on outdated science and misguided assumptions. This lawsuit reflects the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring that people living with HIV are not targeted because of their disability.”

The law also requires those convicted of aggravated prostitution to register as a sex offender, which the DOJ complains would restrict where those convicted can “live, work, and go in public.” Those who are convicted “may not live or accept employment within 1,000 feet of any school, daycare center, other childcare facility, or public park, playground, recreation center, or athletic field,” according to the complaint.

The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit against the state in October 2023 over the law, claiming that it “disproportionately affects Black and transgender women.”

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The department announced in December 2023 that it had found that the law was discriminatory and ordered the state to not enforce it, resulting in the lawsuit Thursday when Tennessee did not comply. The state legislature is currently weighing a bill that would remove the requirement for prostitutes to register as sex offenders if they knowingly have sex with HIV.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office told the Daily Caller News Foundation that they “are aware of the complaint and will review.”

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