News Release: CHLP Made the Call and the DOJ Answered
CHLP Made the Call and the DOJ Answered
As a result of CHLP complaints, DOJ finds Tennessee’s enforcement of aggravated prostitution statute against people living with HIV violates the ADA
NEW YORK -- In response to a complaint filed by CHLP, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found today that the enforcement of Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution statute against people living with HIV violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
CHLP filed the complaints in January 2022 on behalf of people living with HIV in Tennessee and Ohio who have been prosecuted or are at risk of prosecution under criminal laws that single out HIV for uniquely punitive treatment. The complaints marked the first time the ADA was used to challenge HIV criminal laws as a violation of federal laws that prohibit disability-based discrimination.
Today’s historic findings are a result of the application of innovative strategies to use the ADA to challenge HIV criminalization laws developed by Team ATAC (ADA To Attack Criminalization), a project launched by CHLP in 2018.
The aggravated prostitution law in Tennessee specifically targets historically disenfranchised groups, with the majority of arrests targeting Black women, including transgender women. Today’s announcement has widespread, life-changing implications for people living with HIV in Tennessee, and sex workers in particular, who are subject to the double burden of a felony conviction and sex offender registration.
“The implications of the DOJ’s findings are far-reaching. This not only puts the state of Tennessee on notice that this is a serious issue, but it also serves as notice to other states with similar HIV criminal statutes,” said S. Mandisa Moore-O’Neal, CHLP Executive Director. “This is also an opportunity for other state coalitions organizing and educating around HIV criminalization to leverage these findings with lawmakers. In a moment where many state budgets are already tight, the possibility of new and often costly litigation may be the impetus to change these laws,” she continued.
In Tennessee, a prostitution charge is typically a misdemeanor offense. However, if a person living with HIV is alleged to have engaged in an act of prostitution, it becomes an aggravated prostitution charge that is not only elevated to a felony but also mandates lifetime placement on the Tennessee Sex Offender and Violent Sex Offender registry. Tennessee is one of 3O states and two U.S. territories with HIV-specific laws that impose criminal penalties for so-called HIV exposure.
According to the 11-page findings letter, the DOJ’s next steps will be to work with the state and the Shelby County District Attorney’s office toward a voluntary resolution. If a resolution is not possible, the DOJ may file litigation.