Waxman to introduce legislation to decriminalize HIV in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Feb. 28 – State Rep. Ben Waxman, D-Phila., plans to introduce legislation to eliminate a felony penalty for people with HIV charged with prostitution. In Pennsylvania, prostitution is a misdemeanor unless the person has HIV..

In Pennsylvania, people living with HIV have been prosecuted under generally applicable laws for conduct that would not be a crime, or would be a less serious crime, but for their HIV status.

For example, Pennsylvania is one of nine states that still subjects people living with HIV to harsher penalties if charged with prostitution.

Prostitution is typically a misdemeanor offense; however, people living with HIV in Pennsylvania who are charged with prostitution can be charged with a felony. This would happen even if transmission would not be possible, because no physical contact occurred or the nature of contact is not a method of transmission.

“HIV criminalization laws have not kept up with the four decades of progress in the fight against HIV, and do not reflect current scientific knowledge around HIV prevention, transmission, and treatment,” Waxman said. “The harsher criminalization of those living with HIV only stigmatizes those who have contracted this virus as well as the marginalized communities it disproportionately affects.”

Waxman said the legislation could also help prevent Pennsylvania from costly legal trouble. On Dec. 1, 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued findings that Tennessee is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by enforcing its aggravated prostitution law, which similarly makes prostitution a felony offense for people living with HIV.

“The same logic applies to Pennsylvania’s felony prostitution law and efforts are currently underway in Tennessee to amend its prostitution statute to align with the DOJ findings,” Waxman said. “I urge Pennsylvania to do the same as Tennessee before any legal challenges are brought to our laws.

Waxman is collaborating with state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Phila., and state Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Phila./Montgomery, on this legislation.