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.
No offense to those who are poz, but spitting in someones face and being positive is potentially spreading the virus on to them, especially with biting, come on WTF are you trying to start a Zombie Apocalypse?!
@Ernest: You do realize that it is impossible to transmit HIV through saliva. No offense…just using common sense.
Mike in Asheville
While public debate expands understanding of an issue, this one is DOA at the Republican controlled House. And in the event that hell freezes over, there is no way this bill would get past a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
On the issue itself, it seems to me that the new bill fails as poorly as the current situation. At least, though, “intent” is being discussed.
There should be criminal consequences for someone who recklessly disregards the health and safety of others. Notwithstanding that each person is responsible to ensure protection of their person, that does not excuse anyone HIV+ from not disclosing their status with a potential sex partner. I have been HIV+ since 1980/81 (tests were not available then but based on my later blood work, that is what my doctor estimated when symptoms first appeared in 1986). I have never not disclosed; about 50/50 on men who passed and who I did have SAFE sex with.
The article fails to mention an of the handful of cases where someone HIV+ intentionally seeks out partners to infect based on some fucked-up sense of revenge. Others have simply gone around lying about their status for a quick fuck. I think that is criminal behavior deserving of removal from society.
And, I think it is criminal behavior for someone HIV+ to attempt to infect someone looking to sero-convert. Aiding and betting a sick mind is fucked up.
Then there are the cases, perhaps from the list in the article, where the behavior is not criminal. Biting and spitting are, in many more cases than not, instinctual responses of self-defense. As there are no details provided in the biting and spitting cases, it is not truly possible to judge whether the punishments were appropriate. Someone who has only been HIV+ for a relatively short period of time, feels threatened by another’s homophobic actions, reacts with spitting, or responds to physical attack with biting, that is not intentional and not criminal. We have all seen far too many videos of homophobes, including on duty police officers, recklessly endangering the lives of gays and lesbians. While I am not advocating a “they got what they deserved” attitude to give an attacker HIV as bashing back, should that happen, well they did get what they deserved. Again, I do not find that conduct as criminal behavior.
Lastly, regarding cases where someone HIV+ is a non-detectable viral load — THAT MEANS CRAP TO SPREADING THE DISEASE. An undetectable viral load means a viral load below 50 copies of the virus per cubic centimeter of blood. The average males has 6000 cc of blood, up ton 300,000 copies of the virus! Remember, males typically ejaculate 40-500 million of sperm per load, yet it only takes 1 to cause pregnancy.
Twice I have been undetectable for 4 years and 3 years; took drug vacations for various reasons. Both times, 60 days later, my viral load returned to 8,000 and 11,000; after 6 months, before returning to drug therapy, my viral loads were 77,000 and 82,000.
Playing the game of “undetectable” is like playing with gasoline and hoping no one flicks a cigarette at you. Is playing with someone undetectable safer than someone with a detectable viral load? probably; Foolproof: not in the least.
Mike in Asheville
@Tony: That is UNTRUE. Body fluids can host the HIV virus, including saliva. IT IS VERY RARE; mostly because saliva breaks down the virus. But rare is not the same as impossible.
What is much less rare would be someone who has open sores (herpes) in the mouth, and the not-so-rare-at-all, bleeding gums. In these cases, infected blood is in the mouth making biting a potential source of causing infection.
@Mike in Asheville: Your comments are interesting, but lack enough evidence either way. Undetectable may equal non-infectious as some researchers are stating. What studies are your opinions based on? Anecdotally, there are sero-discordant couples who engage in what to you would be considered unsafe sex; yet they remain sero-discordant. Obviously there’s much more to the picture than your somewhat colorful comments portray. Presence of a virus doesn’t equal infectiousness. Obviously many are infected with common cold viruses, yet not everyone easily catches a cold. Other factors influence infection. It’s still my understanding that by far the most common way for gay men to contract HIV is from receiving semen anally from someone with an untreated HIV infection. Any other incidence of transmission seems as rare as a gay-marriage-promoting Republican.
@Mike in Asheville: Your comments are interesting, but lack enough evidence either way. Undetectable may equal non-infectious as some researchers are stating. What studies are your opinions based on? Anecdotally, there are sero-discordant couples who engage in what to you would be considered unsafe sex; yet they remain sero-discordant. Obviously there’s much more to the picture than your somewhat colorful opinions portray. Presence of a virus doesn’t equal infectiousness. Many are infected with common cold viruses, yet not everyone easily catches a cold – other factors influence infection. It’s still my understanding that by far the most common way for gay men to contract HIV is from receiving semen anally from someone with an untreated HIV infection. Any other incidence of gay-sex transmission appears to be rare.
@Mike in Asheville: I don’t want to get into a “fight” but saliva may contain traces of HIV but cannot transmit HIV.
@Gorg: Um, since Charlie Baker and his gay running mate were the republican gubernatorial candidates in MA last year and they obviously endorsed gay marriage, should I be extra careful here?
@Tony: Let’s say someone bit their tongue (literally), filling the oral cavity with HIV+ blood, and therefore virus–I seriously doubt secretory IgA or inhibitory factor could kill all of the virus. This could be a self-inflicted lingual injury or one obtained through external means.
PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
@Mike in Asheville:Hey there…….Haven’t been in a while, glad to see you are still around Queertyland…….Wheres Jeffree????
Very glad that you are one of the surviviors of the nighmare…….I agree with your points. There have been a number of cases of twisted sick fucks who did indeed delibratley spread the virus to unsuspecting partners………They most definatley deserve the same punishment as someone who fires a loaded weapon at someone…….
“the idea that HIV-positive people are disease-spreading pariahs worthy of extra societal punishment”
… but they are 🙁
But then by this logic, the entire gay population should be classified as such…
One of my ex’s was bitten by someone HIV+ I took him to the ER and the doctor said yes I can give you meds if you can afford them however it’s not as easy to catch HIV and many people want to believe. Mind you this came straight from a doctor and I’m more likely to trust a Doctor them then the information I read from random people on the internet.
The examples giving in the article are beyond extreme, but i questions weather they are representative of how these laws are prosecuted in general.
HIV positive people have some responsibility to others, and those minority who knowingly expose others the the virus and risk new infections without giving others the opportunity to protect themselves should be prosecuted in some way.
Beyond the political analysis, I find it highly unlikely that this bill would pass constitutional muster in the courts, the federal government doesn’t have the power to regulate state criminal laws.
Bystander, those examples aren’t extreme–they are real. Prosecution under these statutes has been successful in every state in which they are present. There are people serving long prison terms for spitting.
Ernest, please find and cite the CDC report where a person was infected by saliva. Right, I didn’t think so–BECAUSE NO ONE HAS. The only remote–oh so remote–chance of infection where saliva is present would include copious amounts of blood in saliva being directly transmitted from a poz person into the bloodstream of a recipient–you do know that HIV requires transmission into the bloodstream, right? That’s why oral sex is a danger after oral surgery–but why you’d want to suck cock after oral surgery is beyond me–that’s dedication. That bloodstream requirement is why needle sharing and unprotected anal sex are indicted in a majority of HIV transmissions. If you’ve no breaks in your gums, saliva is an extraordinarily efficient barrier to infection–it is, in fact, why there is a human species and not a bunch of dead neanderthals lying around outside their cave dens. (see http://faculty.ccbcmd.edu/courses/bio141/lecguide/unit4/innate/anatbar.html)
Those who argue that criminalization is a required antidote to the vampirism and sexual predation of HIV-infected individuals have seriously whack attitudes that don’t require my addressing–you need either some empathy or serious pyschotherapy and preferably both.
Mike in Asheville
@MAP: Sorry, MAP, but read your own words: “The only remote–oh so remote–chance of infection where saliva is present would include copious amounts of blood in saliva being directly transmitted from a poz person into the bloodstream of a recipient…”
Situation: HIV+ wants to infect someone, and chooses biting: sinks their teeth into, say, an arm, breaks the skin and into blood vessels, at the same time, in the furry, bites own tongue causing bleeding (or has bleeding gums), and, presto, transmission.
What you write is about whether oral sex can lead to transmission; the article is about cases of claimed intentional transmission — huge difference between being in bed enjoying company and going after a target (offensively or defensively) using biting as a weapon.
Mike in Asheville
@Tony: You are right to the extent that there has not been a confirmed case of transmission of the HIV virus through the engagement of oral sex. BUT, that is oral sex, NOT THE SAME THING as biting as a weapon.
Transmission of the virus can also be accidental: Ryan White, the teen who became infected through a blood transfusion, and for whom the Ryan White Act was named, younger brother became infected, accidentally, when he shared his brother’s razor.
copious amounts and direct transmission–I don’t know anyone other than Alexander Skarsgard who is capable of biting directly into the bloodstream and producing a copious (i.e. sufficient) amount of blood to cause infection.
HIV is a flimsy virus–it requires the bloodstream and a living host, and its transmission must be into the bloodstream of a living host–for example, that’s why mosquitoes can’t infect the entire state of Florida.
You want to criminalize a case that is mind-boggingly difficult and remote–and has never even successfully happened?
You might as well criminalize the possibility that someone might die from a Frosty (Trademark: Wendy’s) brain freeze from vociferous Frosty (Trademark: Wendy’s) sucking.
I suggest if you feel the need to criminalize sexual behaviors, you should start easier–with HPV, the many variants of Herpes or drug resistant gonorrhea. In fact, you would do every person with HIV a huge favor if you killed or locked up everyone who spread those malignant viruses–they can cause incredible havoc to people with compromised immune systems.
As far as Ryan White’s brother–I’ve never heard that story before and I can’t find a reference to it in a casual internet search. I have heard the razor story before–in fact, boringly enough, it was written up in an epidemiology journal–turns out the razor sharer also shared his bare ass with the poz partner. Tried to blame the razor. There are possibilities inherent in the story–sharp razor, dripping with the fresh blood of one of those careless and determined-to-infect-you poz people is tempting you to shave with it (remember–HIV has very little time to survive outside of a LIVING host, so that blood has to be very fresh). You immediately cut yourself, deep enough to expose, through the keratin, the circulatory system. Ah, the evil HIV virus dives in in just enough time to survive and begin anew its path of wanton destruction.
Sorry Mike, not buying it.
Wow. Just from reading the few comments here you can see how uneducated people are on this subject. It’s really sad. I know they don’t teach these things in school but people, especially gay people, should take the time to educate themselves.
This is a tricky subject. Yeah the cases listed in this article are ridiculous. I can’t believe people have been arrested for spitting. But there are people out there who are fully aware of their status and choose to have unprotected sex with others without disclosing. Those people deserve to be in jail. They deserve worse.
Well Rocket–why would they deserve worse? There are people are die of influenza every year–in fact, thousands of people die of influenza every year. They usually obtain this infection from other people, often people who have not taken a flu shot. Shouldn’t those infected people face such harsh penalties? I think they should following your logic.
HPV carriers should be crucified, because that is no more extinguishable than HIV. It can lead to sterility, for example. Herpes, too, can engender sterility and lay the body’s immune system open to opportunistic infections–hey, lock them up too.
In fact, rhinovirus can exist OUTSIDE the body for several days and remain infectious–so those spreading colds should be fucking slaughtered.
Instead, you choose to focus on people with HIV, probably because you believe you are superior to them, that your choices have rectified your moral rectitude, and that you have never engaged in ANY suspect behaviors, shared your influenza virus, passed along your rhinovirus or put anyone in any danger whatsoever.
Oh, those hiv-infected people who deliberately engage in sex without disclosure are just some of millions of people who do not practice full disclosure. No one is saying it’s right–but I am asking you to look into your own hiv-phobia to disclose why it is only THAT group that you believe requires your censure? and, by extension of your logic, prison or worse.
To my mind, poz-phobia is an internalized homophobia on steroids, it’s A-Gay schadenfreude played by bare cock suckers and party bottoms on bathhouse russian roulette, it’s middle class angst-ridden titty babies sucking sour milk and telling themselves they are at least healthy, and worse, it’s the dregs of gay culture feeling bad about the 70’s like their preachers told them to.
Thank you MAP, for working to educate some posters here who seem more interested in protecting an illusion of safety for themselves, or crucifying people with HIV, than they are in having a rational discourse about the efficacy and morality of statutes that create a viral underclass in the law.
The intent to harm someone, whether with a virus or otherwise, is a crime in every state and should remain so. But rarely has intent to harm been demonstrated in these cases.
About a quarter of prosecutions are about behaviors that don’t transmit the virus, like spitting or biting (a guy is presently serving 35 years in Texas for spitting at a cop).
Most of the rest are not about transmitting the virus, not about exposing someone to the virus, but about failing to be able to prove one disclosed one’s HIV status prior to having intimate contact. Using a condom or having an undetectable viral load typically have not been factors in the prosecution; they are often simply about not being able to prove disclosure. A guy in Iowa who had an undetectable viral load and used a condom got 25 years in prison.
These laws create a viral underclass in the law, making behaviors which for others are unremarkable a crime for those who have taken the responsible step to get tested and discover their status. Ignorance of one’s HIV status is the best defense, so they are a tremendous disincentive to getting tested. They also undermine the most basic message about STD prevention, which is that each person must be responsible for their own risk behaviors.
Last year, 4,000 women in the US died from cervical cancer. Virtually every single one of them got it from certain strains of HPV (human papilloma virus, aka “genital warts”). Should we similarly prosecute people who fail to disclose they have HPV? That, I suspect, would include prosecution of many of the posters on this list, as something like 75% of the sexually active adult population carries HPV at some point. It might even be higher amongst gay men.
But HPV isn’t associated with an outlaw sexuality–anal sex or gay sex–and it isn’t associated with communities of color or drug users. HIV is, which makes us a target.
Most people recognize how powerfully stigma discourages people from getting tested or accessing treatment. What is more stigmatizing than when government writes stigma into the law–as in Apartheid or Jim Crow laws–creating a different set of laws for one group of people vs. another?
Most people I know–including most gay men–are initially and instinctively supportive of HIV criminalization statutes. Until they think about them and understand the issues involved better. These statutes are, in my opinion, driving further transmission. There is a ton of research showing they do nothing to achieve their intended purpose (reducing transmission).
I got back from Iowa this afternoon, my home state. Iowa has a proud progressive tradition. Unfortunately, that does not extend to this issue. Iowa has now criminally prosecuted nearly 2% of the people with HIV in that state.
If they spent the money it cost taxpayers to prosecute those cases on effective HIV prevention, we would all be better off.
OK people, disclosure or not disclosure…In my opinion the point we are missing is the FREEDOM of choice. I must say, it’s not fair to blame negligence solely in one part -In a consensual sexual relationship between adults. We are missing the point here -pointing our fingers to HIV infected people for infecting others -what about taking some responsability for your own mixtakes? taking precautions before putting yourself at risk? Isn’t it part of being a grown up to watch for your own health and wellness in every order -and avoid risks at any cost? The times have come to a point where disclosure is not the point. Do you really expect positive people to come forward when condemned with social isolation is the reward? Unprotected sex is a mixtake and unless is against someones will, it should NOT be treated as a rape.
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