Laws about Being HIV Positive
Last updated: September 2023
I would like to share a little bit about HIV criminalization. If you don’t know what that means: these are laws created to criminalize persons living with HIV who are accused of potentially transmitting HIV to another individual. There are also laws for non-disclosure of living with HIV before having sexual intercourse. A person living with HIV can be charged even when they do not pose a risk of transmitting HIV to another person.
Where did HIV criminalization laws come from?
Why do these laws exist? Well, it started back in the 80’s and 90’s when society was fearful and frightened of an epidemic that was spreading rapidly across the globe.
Today, there are 34 states and two U.S. territories that have HIV-specific laws.1 There are many states that actually have prosecuted under HIV specific laws or general laws. When a person is knowledgeable about their HIV status they must tell a sexual partner that they have HIV; these laws are in 19 states.2
I feel that a person is guilty as soon as they get their HIV diagnosis. I say this because the moment someone finds out about our living with HIV, they can turn around, lie, and say that we did not tell them we were living with HIV. So remember, it’s our word against theirs and there is never innocence until proven guilty when it comes to anyone living with HIV. It's guilty until proven innocent and that’s how I see it.
How these laws affect relationships
We must be very careful when entering into a relationship, especially those who are not open at all with their HIV, because it can be held against you like a threat or a form of mental abuse: you can’t leave and are forced to stay with someone who demeans you as a person. There are many women who are in relationships like this and we don’t even know about it because she is afraid to tell.
How these laws create more stigma
People have been convicted for behaviors that have very little to no risk of HIV exposure like spitting, biting or even wearing a condom and still not transmitting HIV. But also, what about the stigmatizing names within the criminal statutes like attempted murder, deadly weapon, or reckless endangerment?
How these laws disrupt lives
Can you honestly say that it’s right for a person’s life to be ruined even when they have disclosed? They still face jail time and have to register as a sex offender. Putting someone in jail/prison for not disclosing will not stop the transmission of HIV at all. These laws must change and, until they change, I can never rally for HIV criminalization laws. Because then, I would be rallying for myself and so many others I know and love to one day face this law.
To find out about the laws in your state or for help if you are being accused, here are some helpful links for you to go to.
- Center for HIV Law and Policy
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: HIV and STD Criminal Laws
- The SERO Project
- To read about cases: the HIV Justice Network
- Watch and listen to Mark Hunter who was accused: SERO Stories - Mark Hunter
- Watch and listen to Robert Suttle who was accused: SERO Stories - Robert Suttle
Have you been outed by someone close to you? Reach out to others in the community who have had similar experiences, here. Find support!
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