US DOJ files lawsuit against Tennessee over allegedly discriminatory prostitution law News
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
US DOJ files lawsuit against Tennessee over allegedly discriminatory prostitution law

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against the state of Tennessee on Thursday seeking the invalidation of a law criminalizing “aggravated” prostitution citing the discriminatory impacts of its elevated penalties on those convicted of prostitution if they are HIV positive. The lawsuit also seeks expungement of state registries related to the law’s enforcement and monetary penalties for victims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a press release following the filing. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”

The Tennessee law categorizes HIV-positive individuals convicted of prostitution, solely on the basis of HIV-positive status, as having committed a “violent sexual offense.” Federal prosecutors are asking a federal judge to, “terminate reporting requirements and cease notification of law enforcement as to the compliance status of individuals on the sex offender registry solely for convictions under the aggravated prostitution statute, pending their removal from the registry.”

The suit comes after the DOJ announced on World AIDS Day that an investigation by its Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office (SCDAO) found that the Tennessee law, “violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by enforcing the state’s aggravated prostitution statute against people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).” At the time, the DOJ’s letter provided Tennessee with, “written notice of its findings and detail[ed] the minimum remedial measures necessary to address [the concerns.]”

The lawsuit signals the DOJ’s commitment to ending this discrimination against PLHIV [people living with HIV] in Tennessee and emphasizes the importance of fully and properly addressing the DOJ’s demands,” said The Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP), a human rights organization working to de-stigmatize HIV and other conditions, in a press release on Thursday. CHLP also noted the DOJ’s complaint could be joined in the future with a concurrent action filed in October of 2023 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Transgender Law Center.