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On World AIDS Day, Lambda Legal Calls for End to HIV Criminalization

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December 1, 2014
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On World AIDS Day 2014, Lambda Legal urges those tasked with enforcing U.S. criminal law—from governors to prosecutors to police detectives—to halt the criminal prosecution of people based on their HIV status, thereby assisting efforts to combat the misconceptions, fear, stereotypes, discrimination and stigma faced by people living with HIV that fuel the epidemic in the U.S. and around the world.

HIV criminalization is a striking example of how misinformation, stereotypes and unfounded fears affect people living with HIV and of the government engaging in discrimination that perpetuates these stigmatizing messages. Imposing unjustified and unnecessary criminal prohibitions on people with HIV has led to a society where people are—among other forms of oppression—imprisoned, classified as felons and forced to register as sex offenders, based on outdated and inaccurate information regarding HIV.

15 Ways HIV Criminalization Laws Harm Us All

We have not come nearly far enough in educating the public about HIV and in reducing stigma and discrimination. Fear and ignorance about HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV remains a serious problem that both marginalizes people and poses barriers to treatment and care.

Lambda Legal remains committed to securing equal protection and equal rights for this community—because living with HIV is not a crime. Lambda Legal's commitment to fighting HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination began more than twenty-five years ago in 1983 when we filed the nation's first challenge to AIDS discrimination and helped secure a court order stopping the efforts of neighbors to evict a doctor from his offices because he treated HIV-positive patients.

That commitment remains strong today. People living with HIV have a right to work and live free from discrimination, and laws, policies and other governmental actions should be based on sound science rather than fear and bias.

In June, Lambda Legal was successful in getting the Iowa Supreme Court set aside the conviction of Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive Iowan. Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender after having a one-time sexual encounter with another man during which they used a condom.

Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 160 prosecutions in the United States in the past four years. Among other things, HIV criminalization perpetuates the many myths and misconceptions that fuel other types of discrimination against people living with HIV. It sends an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, creates a disincentive to getting tested, and may actually discourage disclosure of HIV status.

Read the press release.

HIV, HIV