For HIV-Positive People, Sex Carries The Risk Of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Charges

While making his documentary about the media hysteria and unjust penalties behind HIV criminalization, Sean Strub, the founder of Poz Magazine, spoke with Nick Rhoades. Rhoades had an detectable viral load, used a condom and did not transmit HIV to his partner. But because he didn’t disclose his status, a court sentenced him to 25 years for assault just because he had sex while HIV+.

Rhoades had to register as a sex offender every three months (child molesters have to register every six months). He couldn’t be around minors without their parents and had to wear a GPS ankle bracelet for 24 hour monitoring every day. He could not have any alcohol in the house, had to be home by midnight and couldn’t watch pornography. The police could search his computer whenever they liked and made him take psychological and phallometric tests where they gauged his reactions to different types of porn by putting a girth-measuring band around his penis.

Right now, 34 states and two U.S. territories currently have varying statutes that can penalize HIV+ people for potentially exposing others to the disease. In Rhoades’ home state of Iowa, an HIV+ person can get charged with assault and attempted murder for having consensual sex. In Michigan, an HIV+ man who bit someone in self-defense got charged with bioterrorism. And in Texas, an HIV+ man got 35 years in prison for spitting at a police officer.

In September U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act, a bill that could end HIV criminalization nationwide. Until then the justice system at large and the American media consider the millions of Americans with HIV as criminals just waiting to attack.

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #hivcriminalization #hiv/aids #nickrhoades stories and more


  • bagooka

    It’s 2011. It’s time for America to evolve on this issue.

  • CombatWorn

    Here in Michigan, it’s a crime to not disclose one’s status and yet there is a case where a young man infected multiple partners and was sentenced a few years but only served three months. The volatile swing of blind justice does need to evolve as bagooka suggests.
    Like I’ve said before, LOVE YOURSELF because many others don’t have your back.

  • truth

    Some of the penalties listed are extreme, but you should be charged with a crime if you have unprotected sex without disclosing your confirmed hiv+ status. Sorry, kids.

  • B

    If an HIV+ guy has to bite someone in self defense – e.g., when about to be a victim of a hate crime or robbery – then the criminal should be told that whatever happens to him is just “the cost of doing business.” Whether HIV+ or not, people shouldn’t be expected to sit there meekly so that nothing bad happens to an assailant.

  • Steve

    Sorry, “truth”, maybe you didn’t read the article or watch the film. These people were having protected sex. Maybe the people having unprotected sex without asking should be charged with a 3 count felony of being stupid.

  • Freddie

    If you have unprotected sex with someone, know you have HIV and do not disclose that to your partner, YOU SHOULD GO TO JAIL! Yes Queerty fefers to absurd cases, but these laws do not criminalize people with HIV! They rightly criminalize their attempts to infect their unknowing partners with HIV. How is this a debate?

  • Phil

    Honestly, the article skirts the issue of whether or not the consensual sex the partners had involved disclosing HIV-status. This leads me to believe that no, the poz guys didn’t disclose their status which is illegal to varying degrees. That is deceitful and -fully- deserving of criminal punishment whether or not they had “safe” sex.

    I get that there are a lot of myths and stigma surrounding HIV and they need to be dispelled, but hey, just because -you- can live with HIV doesn’t mean that other people can live with HIV and the fact that you’re gambling on the health of another person is to me abominable.

    To put it in perspective, minors can consent too but fucking them is still illegal because it’s understood that they’re not fully aware of what they’re consenting to.

  • Henry

    Not disclosing your poz status is like not disclosing that you’re a psychopath before you get into a relationship (or a friendship, for that matter). I can just imagine how awkward a conversation like that is, but you have to have it.

  • JayKay

    Their bodies are potentially deadly weapons. If they have sex without warning the other person, they should be prosecuted and punished for it.

    It’s OMGSEXIST and WTFWRONG to blame a rape victim for wearing a mini-skirt, but it’s perfectly fine to blame someone who got AIDS from a partner who didn’t disclose their status for not asking?

  • Vic

    I agree with this. If you are HIV+ you have a duty to disclose. Period. It doesn’t matter if you wear a condom. HIV is a lethal virus and your partner has the right to make a fully informed decision as to whether to take the risk of a condom breaking or leaking.

  • Sam

    @Henry…LOL!!! How many psychopath’s tell their partners they are psychopath’s?

    And for all of you who say that not disclosing your HIV status is criminal: What is the other personal responsibility? It takes two to tango. Its like finding a date in a bar, getting raped then blaming the bar for not telling you that you were dating a rapist. People need to take responsibility for themselves. If you agree to have unprotected sex, you get what you get.

  • WillBFair

    Sam is right, but so is Henry. And I would go further. I’ve listened to people here say that negative people must have sex with positive people to make them feel good about themselves. Imo, such people are also psychopaths.

  • Charles

    Your piece is promoting fear and misunderstanding. Disclosure and use of barriers are protections against prosecution in the vast majority of states.

    Is there need for a Federal standard? Probably.

    HIV isn’t being criminalized in the vast majority of these cases; people who fail to disclose and knowingly expose others are.

    The extreme prosecutions are absolutely wrong, but the numbers are small when compared to the number of transmissions that occur because some HIV+ people know their status and fail to disclose and/or use precautions.

  • Jeff

    I agree, if you’re HIV+ and you don’t actually tell your sexual partners then you should be in jail.

    I know far too many gay and bisexual men who have had sex with people who are HIV+ and it was only after they’d decided not to use condoms or swallow semen, not before they ever had sex that they were told “Oh by the way I’m HIV+!”. These men were not infected but they have no idea why they were not infected even though they had high risk sex with someone that’s HIV+.

  • John K.

    Here’s an idea: if you are HIV NEGATIVE, wear a fucking condom or don’t have sex with strangers! If a poz person lies about it, it’s one thing. But if you don’t ask, I absolutely don’t think they have to affirmatively offer that information, especially with protected sex. And if you are having unprotected sex without even asking, you’re an idiot. The comparison to children not being able to consent is ridiculous. Adults are adults and must. E presumed to understand the risks they are taking with sex. If you do not assume that every person is positive regardless of what they tell you they know or think they k ow about their status, you’re an idiot.

    Btw, the biting and spitting sentences are outrageous. You can’t get it from spit and it would probably be pretty hard to get it from being bitten either.

  • RLS

    It does not fail. Whenever there is a story about HIV or a homophobe on this site, the people pictured are ALWAYS black. It’s such a routine at this point that the people probably don’t even realize that they’re doing it anymore.

  • TFR

    @RLS: Don’t you think you’re making a pretty big generalization? Maybe you just a thing against white people.

  • bagooka

    @Sam: By making that comparison, it’s as if you’re saying that people deserve to get raped. Is that what you think? If you don’t, you should express yourself intelligently and sensibly.

  • matt

    I do think that there needs to be punishment for people who purposely infect others with HIV. However, I’m still shocked that there are people out there who have unprotected sex with people they don’t know and are surprised when they find out they have HIV. Even if every single HIV+ guy always disclosed it would hardly make unsafe sex any less stupid since according to the CDC, 44% of men with HIV don’t even know of their status. If these HIV laws continue to be interpreted in the ridiculous ways they have been in the cases listed, expect that 44% number to go even higher.

  • Gos Blank


    I don’t think that Sam was saying that anyone deserves to get raped OR to get HIV. However, his analogy was very poorly selected.

    I think what Sam is saying is this: Where does one’s personal responsibility to protect THEMSELVES play into all of this?

    Perhaps a better analogy that Sam could have used is that it’s like getting drunk at a bar, then getting into your car and getting into an accident, and then suing the bar for serving you alcohol. You knew the risks and you made a bad choice — how is this someone else’s responsibility?

  • bagooka

    @Gos Blank: Oh, I see. Put that way, it makes sense. For example, no one should have a child unless they’re willing to risk hearing its dying breath an hour after birth. You know that one of the risks to having a child is that it will die all too quickly.

  • Phil

    Okay, let me put it this way then, because there are several scenarios that can play out.

    1. Poz person tells sexual partner he is poz freely: Good on ya!
    2. Poz person tells sexual partner he is poz after being asked: Honesty is still good.
    3. Poz person lies about poz status, has safe sex: Criminal in most areas.
    4. Poz person lies about poz status, has unsafe sex: Horrible person, criminal in most areas, fully deserving of 35+ years.

    If you’re poz it is your moral duty to inform other people of your status before engaging in sex. Maybe not your legal duty, but it’s still the right thing to do.

    Don’t give me bullshit about how they didn’t ask so they don’t care. People can be stupid and if they didn’t really care then they’d still have sex with you after you told them. If you want to be the responsible person, if you want to be the good person, then be the guy that offers that information even if they don’t ask. So what if idiots are sometimes gonna reject you out of hand after learning about your status. IT. IS. NOT. YOUR. FUCKING. JOB. TO. “FIX”. THEM. You would think that people who already have HIV would be more sensitive about maybe not getting other people infected.

    And to you people saying “You’re an idiot for having unprotected sex which could get you HIV”, you’re fucking monsters. Yea, there are dumb people out there and they’re gonna do dumb things but hell no do they “deserve” HIV in any way just because of that. And that’s essentially what you’re saying. And to defend my remark about minors, listen up. A minor can’t consent to sex with nonminors because they’re not fully aware of the consequences of their actions. They’re stupid teenagers. In the same way, dumb people who have unprotected sex with poz guys who didn’t tell them they’re poz are having uninformed consensual sex, and they’re not fully aware of the consequences. They could be assuming that because you didn’t tell them, and that you’re not using a condom, that you’re neg. And they don’t deserve HIV because of that. Asshole.

  • Nate dawg

    As usual, the Queerty crowd is mostly ignorant, repressive, and draconian when it comes to sex and HIV.

    The law ridiculous for a variety of reasons.

    First, it doesn’t take into account context. Whether an HIV-positive person is medicated is the single greatest predictor of whether transmission will occur. Period. Whether the HIV-positive partner is the receptive or active partner is the next most important factor. So you have a variety of scenarios–from a high viral load TOP to a completely undetectable bottom with a wide, wide range of danger–all treated the same under criminal law. Should stabbing someone in the leg with a paper airplane be as punishable as stabbing them with a bowie knife right through the heart? What other area of law is the punishment so ridiculously divorced from actual harm/danger?

    Second, the law creates bad incentives. As long as you DO NOT KNOW YOUR STATUS, you cannot be prosecuted. Period. So an HIV-positive individual who regularly engages in risky sex but hasn ot taken an HIV test since seroconversion cannot be prosecuted at all. This is particularly troubling because it is precisely these individuals who are most likely to transmit the virus, as they have high viral loads so long as they are not treated. These laws create a disincentive to know your status, especially for the sexually promiscuous who enjoy risky sex. They have free reign to engage in it with anyone so long as they do not know their status….this is a problem.

    Third, these laws justify a troubling intrusion into personal affairs. Many of these cases arise in a heated domestic dispute and really come down to a he-said/he-said scenario. I have a general preference for keeping the government out of people’s bedrooms.

    Fourth, HIV is no longer a death sentence and for many (most?) of those treated may not lead to death. HIV is no more analogous to tuberculosis or diabetes–a treatable, chronic condition that has varying mortality rates usually because of underlying health conditions and one’s tolerance for treatment options. Why isn’t tuberculosis treated with the same gravitas?

    Finally, the laws are so variable from state-to-state that we have the problem where crossing an imaginary line makes one thing a felony where two inches to the left it is not criminal at all.

    Bottom line: the world is a dangerous place. Individuals in a free society should not expect the government to rid the world of all its dangers, and indeed, it cannot do so even if it tried. Your health is your responsibility, and if you knowingly engage in unprotected sex with anyone–stranger or partner–then you know you are putting yourself at risk. To ruin someone else’s life for your own mistake is immature and does nothing to remove the problem going forward.

    For the rare instances where people purposefully infect others, then there are criminal statutes apply, but the specific criminalization of HIV creates a stigma that is actually counterproductive. The less stigma attached to HIV, the more people will be tested, and the more people will be treated, and the fewer cases of transmission will occur. The law should be aimed at encouraging openness about HIV rather than repressing it.

  • matt

    @Phil: Your whole rant is just plain bizzare but this part is just especially weird.

    “So what if idiots are sometimes gonna reject you out of hand after learning about your status. IT. IS. NOT. YOUR. FUCKING. JOB. TO. “FIX”. THEM.”

    What the hell, why not? That’s like telling people that it’s not their job to educate their homophobic relatives/acquaintances about gay people. A LOT of people are ignorant about HIV, a staggering number. Even among gay men, most people I meet don’t really even know the basics about HIV and are hopelessly ignorant, YES IT IS OUR JOB TO EDUCATE THEM. Ignorance is half of the reason we’re still dealing with this epidemic after 30 years.

  • matt

    @Phil: “They could be assuming that because you didn’t tell them, and that you’re not using a condom, that you’re neg. And they don’t deserve HIV because of that. Asshole.”

    Allow me to say this one more time to pound it in your idiot head.

    2. NO ONE really knows their HIV status with complete certainty unless they are celibate or 100% monogamous.

    If anyone would assume that because the person they’re having sex with is not using a condom, that they’re negative, I have zero sympathy for them. That’s approximately as dumb as walking out in front of a speeding car and expecting not to get hit.

  • Shannon1981

    These laws are outrageous. Really. I don’t give a damn who you are or what you have. If I am going to sleep with you, it is MY responsibility to protect myself. And saliva is hostile to the HIV virus. That is an unfounded claim, giving it to someone that way. Amazing, the laws are just a product of the ignoramuses who write them.

    BTW, I have slept with HIV positive women, the last one more than a year ago. I am negative. Protect yourselves. You CAN be in a sero- discordant sexually active relationship without the negative partner becoming positive if you take the right steps.

    Anything stating otherwise is sheer ignorance.

  • What?

    It’s strange to me that people are defending someone not disclosing their HIV+ status to their sex partners. Using protection does not excuse not informing the person you intend to sleep with that you are HIV+.

    @RLS: Agreed, but race baiting is old hat around here. No one really took the bait though so it’s no biggie.

  • Jeff

    @Nate-Just because an HIV+ person is on medications or has a low viral load that does not mean that they’re somehow not going to be able to infect other people, get reinfected, or get infected with other strains of HIV.

    Comparing HIV to diabetes or tuberculosis just shows how ignorant you are about HIV, treatment for HIV, and how most people who are HIV+ can’t afford the expensive medications, doctors visits, and this happens even if they have insurance. Also the meds for HIV are not fun and have nasty side effects and are bad for your body.

  • HIV+_and_versatile

    I am HIV+.

    Saying that sentance has gotten me ostrasized a number of times.
    People who wanted to bed me and were very obvious about it completely change their entire demeanor about me when they find out.
    Sucks, but it is what it is. I took the risks and am paying the price.

    As for disclosure…depends.
    I am on HIV meds and I am undetectable with a good T cell count.
    If it is a one night stand I am just going to be bottom and the other person is going to be ussing a barrier then I see no reason to bring it up.
    If the person wants a LTR, to be topped (with or without a barrier) or unprotected sex is insisted on, then disclosure is a must.

    If the activities we are going to be participating in carry no real risk I see no reason to ruin a good night. If the activities have intrinsic risk then I tend to avoid them as a general rule anyways.

    I have only not disclosed one time and it was protected, I was bottom and it was a gentle unhurried situation.
    Now if anyone can point out the actual risks I put this man at I might feel bad about it. As it stands, I see no reason to get worked up over a friendly safe fuck.
    The one taking the real risk here was me. If he was HIV+ also and had a strain of HIV my meds are resisitant to and broke the condom I could have been reinfected and had to change med regimine or gone into complete med failure developed AIDS and died.

  • Charles

    To everyone that goes into extreme rants and are filled with fear, GET EDUCATED about this subject. Everyone on here obviously has Internet access. Put your illogical fears and hysteria aside and at least attempt to approach this in an intelligent way. Quit being a core part of the problem and start becoming a part of the solution. As the saying goes, “A house divided shall not stand”.

  • What?

    @Charles: What does that have to do with the right to disclosure?

    You posted a nice deflection from the real issue which is hiding your status from someone you intend to sleep with.

  • the other Greg

    It seems that a lot of Queerty readers might approve of William F. Buckley’s suggestion from the ’80s that HIV+ people simply be tattooed in their genital area for easy identification! Which would still leave the little detail of getting people tested in the first place. Perhaps GOProud can arrange with the successful christo-fascist nominee for the necessary forced testing and concentration camps.

    @RLS: Have to agree with you – that jumped out at me too. The subject of the post is white, and Sean Strub the publisher is white. The post refers to Iowa, one of the whitest states, hardly any black people there. It’s hard to interpret it any other way – the photo selection is racist. Although Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Calif.) is black so maybe that’s why they *unconsciously* (?) chose such a weird photo for it.

    @HIV+_and_versatile: You have a great attitude. Exactly right. My boyfriend had the same responsible attitude when he was single and I’m really glad he did, I ended up with a great boyfriend.

  • Charles

    My comment was intended to help bring overall correction on this subject INCULDING the disclosure aspect as well. Example: Not long ago people thought that you could catch AIDS from many other ways. Many ways that are outside of what is presently known as factual. Even to this day, because of the LACK of education upon the subject, there are still those remaining that believe in these known falsehoods. An excellent present day example is inside of this article. That is why despite having an undetectable viral load (that alone dramatically reduces the chance of passing it) and that he used a condom (the right thing to do) they still legally plastered him. As far as the part dealing exclusively with disclosure, as long as going to bed with someone is NOT the current goal, there is no need for disclosure. Disclosure necessity comes into play only when one is getting ready to have sex with another. Also, if both parties involved are properly educated about these things, then culpability lies with BOTH of the persons involved and not just the HIV+ one.

  • Charles

    HIV+_and_versatile You are doing the right things. The part of my previous writ “Disclosure necessity comes into play only when one is getting ready to have sex with another” is what I do for myself as I am HIV+ This because the laws are pretty much still outdated.

  • Jerry

    If you’re HIV+, your partner(s) deserve(s) to know. They deserve to have the opportunity evaluate the risks themselves. I don’t care if you plan to use a condom. Safe sex still carries risk. I don’t care if your viral load is undectable. Every HIV medication known to man makes clear that, even with treatment, you’re still capable of infecting others. I don’t even care if you only plan to bottom. You shouldn’t make the decision about what’s “safe enough” for someone else. And if all you can think about in this debate is how we should all take personal responsibily for our own actions, then consider it your own personal responsibilty to keep yourself out of jail and off the sex offender database by informing your partners if you’re HIV+.

  • Andy

    @WillBFair: Will, what you read we’re well constructed lines of thought that sero discrimination is ineffective and counterproductive and therefore shouldn’t be practiced. this was backed up by reams of scientific data and well constructed arguments. Rather than concede that you are wrong or go try to think of a way that you are right, you’ve chosen to hide between a complete lie that the argument had something to do with “feelings”. Please stop lying, anyone can go back and see what the actual discussions were.

  • Jon

    First off, I would have to believe that someone had contacted law enforcement on this individual – unless law enforcement when down the list of HIV + people and decided, “okay guys let’s make a case against this guy.” And just for the record certain child molesters have to register every three months and wear the ankle bracelet as well, but neither here nor there. It might have been the partner found out later that he was positive and flipped a script on him. Even though they played safe. I think there is a lot more to this story then what is being reported here.

  • Mitch

    I find it interesting that so many people doubt that prosecutions are happening when there was no real risk involved, or when the facts wouldn’t normally support prosecution. Think of some of the more famous instances of rabid lawyers trying to make a name for themselves. Think of the duke rape case. Think of all the crazy traffic cops who harass certain groups. Now put those same personalities in touch with some of the more batshit insane/malicious exes or one night stands we’ve all had. Are these stories really so inconceivable?

  • Glenn

    HIV testing should be mandatory. It should have have become mandatory immediately after we knew how to detect it. This is a public health issue, not a civil rights issue. Period!

  • Todd

    @Glenn: Annually, HPV and HCV kill more people than HIV. Should those too require mandatory testing? Or is it just whatever your precious hypochondriac ass is afraid of?

Comments are closed.