World AIDS Day 2014: 15 Ways HIV Criminalization Laws Harm Us All

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November 14, 2014

Lambda Legal is working to eliminate criminal prosecutions based just on HIV status.

HIV criminalization laws harm public health, cause unjust prosecutions, and stigmatize and oppress people living with HIV. These laws do more harm than good — and that's why Lambda Legal is working with public health advocates and others to change them state by state.

Read our "Ask Lambda Legal" blog post about HIV disclosure.

Together we can create better policies that will keep us all healthy, happy and thriving!

These laws HARM PUBLIC HEALTH, because they...

1. Contradict public health messages about shared responsibility for safer sex, and create a false sense of security about a partner’s HIV status (“if s/he has HIV, s/he has to tell me”).
2. May reduce disclosure: If you might land in jail after telling someone you are HIV+, you may hesitate to share that information.
3. Alienate patients from care: Information from health care providers is often used to prosecute, creating distrust between patients and their doctors or medical staff, and reducing opportunities for counseling.
4. Don’t deter behavior: No studies have shown the laws reduce transmission.
5. Can deter HIV testing: If you don’t know your status, you can’t be prosecuted.

These laws result in UNJUST PROSECUTIONS because...

6. Intent to transmit is not required to prosecute: People are imprisoned who had no intent to harm anyone and did not, in fact, place their partner at any risk of transmission.
7. It is extremely difficult to prove disclosure: Conversations about sex often take place in private and are not documented.
8. Convictions may be strongly influenced not only by jurors' moral disapproval of casual sexual encounters but also an incorrect assessment of the risks both sex partners assume in that circumstance.
9. These laws ignore the science: Condoms or an undetectable viral load can prevent transmission, but these laws don't encourage either. And in prosecutions claiming transmission, the prosecution doesn't have to prove the defendant was the source of infection.
10. The punishments are completely disproportionate to any claimed harm. Long jail terms are imposed even when there was no real risk of transmission and no actual injury.

These laws STIGMATIZE AND OPPRESS people living with HIV because...

11. The HIV-negative partner can use them to coerce the HIV-positive partner, by threatening a false accusation or arrest and imprisonment if the HIV-positive person doesn’t do as told.
12. They further oppress already marginalized populations: Sex workers are made felons, and people whose immigration status depends on a "clean" criminal record can be deported.
13. Confidentiality may be compromised: Nothing prevents a potential partner from telling anyone about the person’s HIV status, which can trigger more stigma and discrimination.
14. Convictions ruin lives: A felony conviction, incarceration and registration as a “sex offender” make it hard to put your life back together.
15. These laws stigmatize ALL people with HIV: Sensationalized media reports (which pay little attention to the details of an arrest or prosecution) and the idea that we need HIV-specific laws create the impression that every person living with HIV is a sexual deviant and likely predator.

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