HIV Talk: Are Criminal HIV Transmission Laws Outdated?

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October 30, 2014
6:00 a.m.

9577810-close-up-horizontal-of-man-in-handcuffs-on-his-wrists-isolated-on-white-background-360x240Story Courtesy Of Graham Gremore

A man in Chicago has been accused of not disclosing to his partner that he was HIV-positive, despite knowing he was infected, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The 25-year-old has been charged by Cook County prosecutors with criminal transmission of HIV. According to prosecutors, he allegedly engaged in unprotected sex with his partner after repeatedly denying that he was infected.

The man is now being held in jail on a $75,000 bail. In the state of Illinois, knowingly exposing a person to HIV is considered a Class 2 felony, and is subject to three to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

According to the CDC, more than 30 U.S. states have criminal HIV transmission laws, most of which were implemented during the early years of the AIDS crisis, which punish people who knowingly — and sometimes unknowingly — expose their partners to HIV without disclosing their statuses beforehand, even if their partners do not contract the virus. Punishments can range from hefty fines, to mandating a person register as a sex offender, to as much as 25 years in prison.

But are these sorts of laws fair or even effective? Many HIV/AIDS activists say no.

In October 2012, the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America called for the repeal of all laws criminalizing HIV, writing: “Policies and laws that create HIV-specific crimes or that impose penalties for persons who are HIV-infected are unjust and harmful to public health around the world.” It also argued that the laws only contribute to stigmatization and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Sean Strub of the Sero Project, a group that is dedicated to fighting HIV stigma, echoed this sentiment this week when he told Windy City Times“HIV criminalization is making the epidemic worse because of how it drives stigma, and discourages people at greatest risk from getting tested and those who test positive from accessing treatment.”

“These prosecutions typically have nothing to do with HIV transmission,” he added. “They are most often about whether or not the person with HIV can prove they disclosed prior to having sex. Whether a condom was used, or the person’s viral load was even detectable, doesn’t matter, nor does the science.”

Strub also noted that there are no laws punishing the transmission of more widespread sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

“More U.S. women died last year of cervical cancer from strains of HPV than died of AIDS from HIV,” he said. “But we’re not prosecuting people for failing to disclose they carry HPV.”

Strub believes laws against HIV transmission are designed to unfairly target gay men and other minority groups.

“Unlike HIV, [HPV] isn’t specifically associated with gay men, people of color and people who use drugs,” he explained. “HIV criminalization is about targeting specific groups of people, not about preventing disease.”

What do you think? Is it time we stopped criminalizing HIV? Vote!


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