December 1, 2018, is the 30th annual World AIDS Day, an event “for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.”
Unfortunately, this spirit of unity, support, and remembrance is not shared by everyone. In some U.S. states (as well as in other countries), specific laws criminalize HIV-positive people and certain behaviors.
These laws criminalize the transmission of, or perceived exposure to, HIV and other infectious diseases. A number of criminal laws on sexually transmitted infections explicitly include HIV, whereas others, such as in New York, contain broad definitions of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) or “infectious disease” that can apply to HIV.
Some of these laws criminalize not just exposure to or transmission or HIV, but also behaviors—such as spitting–that have no risk of HIV transmission. These laws are not based in scientific evidence about actual risk or transmission pathways, but rather based on outdated prejudicial beliefs and harmful stigma about people living with HIV.
These policies are used to prosecute, fine, or even imprison people living with HIV, many of whom may be LGBT people. This can discourage people from being tested for HIV, leading to adverse public health outcomes. For more information about these laws and their impact on people living with HIV, check out MAP’s report Spotlight: HIV Criminalization Laws.
Overall, 82% of the U.S. adult population lives in a state with an HIV criminalization law on the books—that’s 38 states! Because the specific content of these laws vary so widely, the prosecution and penalties can also vary widely. And in states with no known prosecution or HIV-specific statutes, there are also no legal frameworks in place to prevent prosecutions under general criminal codes in these states, leaving people vulnerable to being criminalized simply because of their HIV status.
It’s time to enact commonsense policy recommendations to reduce the harmful consequences of such laws. It’s time to modernize or repeal HIV criminalization laws.
For more information on the history of HIV criminalization, see here. Additionally, if you or someone you know is currently being charged with an HIV-related offense, please contact the Legal Help Desk at Lambda Legal by calling (866) 542-8336 or through this form.