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University of Denver College of Law




Lawmakers historically justify the mobilization of criminal laws on prostitution and HIV as a means of controlling the spread of disease. Over time, however, public health research has conclusively demonstrated that criminal laws on prostitution and HIV significantly impede the ability of sex workers to access services and to live without the stigma and blame associated with being a transmitter of HIV. In turn, mainstream public health approaches to sex work and HIV emphasize decriminalization as a way to improve the lives of sex workers in need of care, treatment, and services. Our current legal system, which criminalizes both prostitution and HIV transmission and exposure, is not in keeping with this decriminalization frame and instead compounds criminal penalties on people charged with prostitution related crimes and undermines HIV efforts.

This Article presents a public health law mapping of U.S. states that mandate HIV testing and criminalize HIV positive sex workers. The mapping demonstrates that laws on HIV transmission and exposure interact with laws on sex work to compound criminal penalties on people charged with prostitution related crimes. In keeping with public health evidence, this Article argues that decriminalization of sex work and HIV transmission and exposure is integral to effectively address the HIV epidemic. The Article seeks to contribute to a growing literature on the necessity of decriminalizing sex work by uncovering how these laws interact to undermine the HIV response.

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