Thirty-four states and two U.S. territories have statutes penalizing HIV-positive people for potentially exposing others to the disease. But in September U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) plans on introducing the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act, a bill that could end HIV criminalization nationwide. This is a good idea for two important reasons.
First, the proposed bill states that “The criminalization of exposure to and/or transmission of HIV without the requirement of malicious intent violates the civil and human rights of individuals who are HIV-positive,” and it’s correct. According to Housing Works, the largest community-based AIDS organization in the U.S., HIV-crimes do more harm than good even though their supporters claim these policies protect the public health.
- A man with HIV in Texas is serving 35 years for spitting at a police officer.
- A man with HIV in Iowa had an undetectable viral load and had a sexual encounter during which he used a condom and HIV was not transmitted. He received a 25-year sentence. The sentence was eventually suspended, but he was required to register as a sex offender. This barred him from unsupervised contact with his nieces, nephews, and other young children.
- A woman with HIV in Georgia received an 8-year sentence for nondisclosure of her HIV status to a sexual partner, despite the testimony of two witnesses that the partner knew of her HIV status.
- A man with HIV in Michigan was charged under the state’s anti-terrorism statute with possession of a ‘‘biological weapon’’ after he allegedly bit his neighbor.
The proposed bill goes onto say that “The criminalization of exposure to and/or transmission of HIV without the requirement of malicious intent violates the civil and human rights of individuals who are HIV-positive.”
But worst of all, HIV-criminalization laws not only perpetuate anti-HIV animus by suggesting the idea that HIV-positive people are disease-spreading pariahs worthy of extra societal punishment, but they also provide a good reason NOT to get tested. After all, if neither you nor anyone else knows your HIV-status, how can anyone accuse you of knowingly trying to spread it?
Repealing these laws would help us re-direct local resources to where the real HIV-battle is: reducing transmission in the first place as well as educating and treating those who are already infected.