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Report Highlights Outdated HIV Criminalization Laws

More than 80 percent of LGBT people live in states with laws that criminalize HIV status. (Geralt/Pixabay)
More than 80 percent of LGBT people live in states with laws that criminalize HIV status. (Geralt/Pixabay)
December 1, 2016

NEW YORK – Today is World AIDS Day and a new report shows that most Americans live in states where outdated laws still can criminalize HIV positive status.

New York is one of 38 states with laws that could be used to criminally prosecute people who are HIV positive for potentially exposing another person - regardless of intent and often when there is little or no chance of transmitting the virus. According to Naomi Goldberg,research and policy director at the Movement Advancement Project, these laws do not reflect the reality of HIV today.

"States should reform, repeal and/or modernize any of the laws that criminalize the transmission of HIV,” Goldberg said. "They should take into consideration the best available science, the medical evidence and things like intent and proportionality."

Some state laws specifically criminalize behaviors like spitting that cannot transmit HIV.

New York’s laws target sexually transmitted infections in general and could be used to prosecute people who have had sex after being diagnosed as HIV positive. But Goldberg argued that those with other infections are much less likely to be charged with a crime.

"It's only with HIV where people are being prosecuted,” she said. "Exposure to syphilis or exposure to gonorrhea or exposure to another sexually transmitted infection is very rarely prosecuted, which is problematic."

Rather than stemming the spread of HIV, Goldberg said evidence is mounting that criminal prosecutions discourage people from getting tested.

And she added that HIV criminalization laws are based on the fear and stigma of 30 years ago, but advances in antiretroviral therapies and the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis have reduced the threat significantly.

"HIV is no longer a death sentence,” she said. "We have life expectancies for people who are diagnosed and are on ART that are comparable to individuals without HIV."

A bill introduced in Congress, called the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act, would encourage states to modernize their laws, and would update federal laws and policies to be in line with modern science.


Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY