Senator Hughes and Representative Waxman

HARRISBURGMarch 21, 2023 – State Senator Vincent Hughes and Representatives Benjamin Waxman and Malcolm Kenyatta announced legislation on March 20, 2024 that will repeal Pennsylvania’s felony sentencing enhancement for people living with HIV who are charged with prostitution.

Removing the felony charge removes the last relic of HIV criminalization laws in Pennsylvania, one of nine states still subjecting people living with HIV to harsher penalties if charged with prostitution. In recent years other states including Georgia, Nevada, and California have modernized or repealed their prostitution laws.

“HIV is not a crime. This is 2024, not 1984,” said Senator Hughes. “We have evolved so much in the forty years since we were confronted with this virus. Stigma was wrong then, and it is wrong now. Let’s continue the journey of eliminating this issue of discrimination toward HIV from the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

HIV criminalization laws began to appear across the nation more than 30 years ago, and advocates have been pushing for reform ever since. Kenya Moussa, of the Pennsylvania HIV Justice Alliance, Positive Women’s Network – Pennsylvania Chapter, and Health Not Prisons Collective, said that “we should treat HIV like a health condition, not like a crime.”

The current law, according to Representative Waxman “does nothing for public safety. The only thing that the mention of HIV in the criminal code does is discriminate against people with a communicable disease and that is not right.”

“HIV is not a crime,” Representative Kenyatta emphasized. “When we criminalize a diagnosis, we encourage people to go untested and not seek treatment.” Kenyatta continued, “Pennsylvania has an opportunity to move the ball in the right direction and treat everyone, no matter what diagnosis with dignity and respect.”

Shekinah Rose, who has been “living, surviving and thriving with HIV/AIDS for 39+ years” and is a member of the Pennsylvania HIV Justice Alliance, Positively Trans, and Positive Women’s Network USA, said that “with the passage of this bill, we will remove stigma, encouraging people to get tested, get into care, and thrive!”

A September 2023 poll by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows that a majority of Pennsylvanians believe that the state’s HIV laws should be updated to reflect modern science. According to the poll, 76% of Pennsylvanians believe that current HIV laws should be modernized and updated. And 79% believe that people living with HIV should receive the health care they need, rather than face criminal charges that discriminate and discourage proper testing, treatment, and disclosure.

“Punishing people simply because they have a virus does not make anyone safe,” said Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. “Instead, criminal penalties based on fear and misinformation contribute to the stigma fueling the HIV epidemic.”

Founded in 1988, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit public-interest law firm providing free legal assistance to people living with HIV and those affected by the epidemic. It is the nation’s only independent public-interest law firm dedicated to people living with HIV.

Pennsylvania HIV Justice Alliance is a coalition of Pennsylvanians living with HIV and strategic allies that speaks with a collective voice to enhance the quality of life and secure a just future for people living with HIV.