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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

HIV POSITIVE CRIMINALS: HAVE SEX, GO TO JAIL


This may be the defining HIV issue of our time, and it is a true test of our compassion and understanding of both HIV stigma and the law. Please read this closely.


Around the country, and without leadership or guidelines from the Federal government, individual states have taken it upon themselves to draft laws that "protect" people from those of us with HIV. Whether using bio-terrorism statutes or simple "assault with a deadly weapon," people with HIV who do not disclose their status to their sexual partners are risking arrest and prosecution.

You're already having a visceral response to this scenario, aren't you? You may have the vague feeling that anyone who doesn't disclose their HIV+ status to a partner probably deserves to be punished. Don't worry, you're not alone. Not only do most people support laws forbidding sex without disclosing an HIV+ status, but even a majority of gay men support such laws, and it is understandable, albeit a misinformed view, as to why.

Many of us know someone who was infected by a partner who didn't disclose their status, or even lied about it. I have friends who dated someone claiming to be negative, until they found a telltale prescription drug bottle and then discovered they had been infected. Worse yet are the news reports showing some big, scary black man who has been raping white women and infecting them with HIV. How could anyone argue against bringing these liars and malicious infectors to justice?


But the sad fact is, most prosecutions under these laws are not being imposed against those who are deliberately malicious or even criminally negligent. They are being imposed using not science, but the same ignorance, stigma, homophobia and racism that has plagued HIV/AIDS throughout the years. And well intentioned people like you and me are buying into it.


In Texas, a man is serving more than twenty years for spitting on a cop, despite the impossibility of transmitting HIV. And in the vast majority of cases against people having sex without disclosing, no transmission even occurred. In fact, whether or not there was any real risk of transmission is of little concern to prosecutors. People on medication with no viral load, for whom transmission is a remote possibility if at all, are being sentenced to jail time for not disclosing... even if they used a condom and did not transmit a thing. And the sentences are outrageous: decades of jail time in many cases.

Consider the black woman for whom disclosing her HIV status is more than a mere embarrassment; it could mean the collapse of her support network, the loss of a job or even physical danger. She is a compliant patient with no viral load, and insists her sex partner uses a condom. He somehow learns of her HIV status, calls the cops, and she is prosecuted and imprisoned. These are not fantasy scenarios, they are happening with increasing speed around the country.

The effect of these laws on public health is sobering. If those who know their status risk prosecution for not disclosing, and those who don't get tested at all can have sex without legal consequences, how does that draw people into HIV testing? As activist Sean Strub says, "Take the test and risk arrest."

The laws in some states are written so strictly that it is a legal risk for any HIV positive person to have sex at all.[Editor's Note: See Sean Strub's 2-minute video below for specific examples.] All the prosecutors need is to know you are HIV positive and you had sex with your accuser. If the accuser claims you didn't disclose, you're in for an uphill battle convincing a judge otherwise. You're saddled with the distasteful nature of any positive person actually having sex, and if it was gay sex, well, God help you.

Activist Sean Strub has taken this issue up as a personal crusade. I first met Sean two years ago when I produced a video blog with him discussing the issue of HIV criminalization. He took it to the United Nations AIDS Committee last month, and brought along two heartbreaking stories in the testimony of Robert Suttle and Nick Rhoades—the men you see pictured above.

Watch Sean's own testimony about people with HIV being viewed as "vectors of disease," with less rights but more responsibility to disclose, and you may view this issue quite differently than you do now.

Is your record of disclosing your status perfect? Mine isn't. I have been a compliant patient for many years and have an undetectable viral load. There has been instances in which disclosure felt unsafe, or I was in environments such as public sex clubs in which no one is asking or telling.

I don't believe I deserve to go to jail for those indiscretions. Do you?

Sean has created a trailer for a film he is producing called HIV is Not a Crime; we've included it below. You can also watch Robert Suttle and Nick Rhoades' incredible testimony at the United Nations AIDS Committee last month on Mark S. King's wesbite My Fabulous Disease.

SOURCE: GAY DOT NET


10 comments:

  1. My blogger brother and my friend, you already know my feelings and thoughts on this topic. Please, I beg your patience as I reiterate myself here. Yes, my youngest brother died from complications resulting from AIDS after he was infected by someone who did not disclose their status to him. Yes, I was angry as hell at the both of them. Yes, I, and others like me, supported the passage of these laws back in the day. That was then and this is now.

    I channelled my anger into becoming a volunteer HIV/AIDS prevention educator trainer and have continued in this capacity ever since. I keep myself informed and current on issues dealing with this pandemic, both here in the USA and abroad. Not just subjects regarding treatment, research and science, but on social concerns as well. I owe both my sibling and his memory this much and more.

    Initially, these laws were passed under the guise of public health. At least, that's what we were told. In retrospect, they are nothing more than an extension of exactly what you said: bigotry, hatred, homophobia, racism and xenophobia. It's the white man's way (yes, I am white so I can legitimately state this) of punishing all of "those" people for threatening "their" peace of mind and way of life. They can no longer keep people in chains so they move onto Plan B (incarceration).

    These draconian legislative measures have now become an instrument of vindication. There selective enforcement often ignores the established legal protocol known as due process. For all intents and purposes, they are no longer used for public health but instead are now a tool of retribution abused by the authority for which they were originally created: justice.

    These laws have outlived there purpose and effectiveness. They are now counterproductive and discriminatory. They should be abolished.

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  2. Wow, Keeper, I have to say I was entering this with a completely ignorant mindset. I did not know of the other side. Sure we hear the shit on talk shows, and cases of willful and malicious cases. I did not realize all the other cases out there, the vast majority of them are not about intent or even transmission itself but of non-disclosure.
    Personally I do not think someone with HIV should get to make that choice for another and should disclose, which if very easy for me to say, being HIV negative. But in saying that, I do not think it should make you a criminal. And I agree it sends a wrong message about testing.
    Thanks for the different outlook.

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  3. ROGER: YOU MY PATIENCE & MORE. I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS WHEN IT COMES THIS SUBJECT & EVERY TIME I POST ENTRIES ON THIS SUBJECT I ALWAYS WONDER WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS WOULD BE.

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  4. JAMIES: YOU ARE WELCOME, WHEN I CAME ACROSS THIS I HAD TO POST.

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  5. I had no idea. You have dropped some knowledge on me. These practices don't encourage one to know their status. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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  6. I know one about one or two countries that are toying with this kind of legislation. Can I use your post on my blog? It speaks so loudly I don't see how anyone can say it any better? Thanks.

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  7. My sentiments exactly Roger. I know all to well how underhanded and deceitfulpeople that are infected can be and not really realize that harm and factors associated with having unprotective sex with partners without informing them of their status.

    I work closely with an group here in Madison that teaches and promotes even advocates prevention and safe sex. During various meetiings and testing sites I learn of the many men and women that have participated in un-safe sex pratices and as a result have become infected with HIV.

    It saddens me to have learned that an associate of mine's is actually HIV+ and continues to have sex with brothas he meet on the street and never mentions his HIV status.

    There is no concreate law here that would convict a person for not disclosing, but the State is addressing that issue, nearing states do have laws on the books that would convict any person that doesn't disclose his/her HIV status and participates in a sexual act without disclosing.

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  8. CHET: I HAVE (HAD) A FRIEND THAT IS HIV+ & HE & I PARTED WAYS BECAUSE I COULDN'T HANDLE HIM HAVING SEX WITH OTHERS & NOT DISCLOSING HIS STATUS.

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