Jailed For HIV

In a recent interview, Lee Thompson (aka “Uncle Poodle” from Here Comes Honey Boo Booclaimed that he brought charges against his ex-boyfriend for infecting him with HIV, resulting in a five-year sentence. Todd Heywood casts doubt on Thompson’s story. Zooming out, Scott Burris has cited cases of incarceration for the HIV transmission as an example of the trend of “overcriminalization” in America:

One of the best examples of criminal law rushing in where angels fear to tread is the criminalization of HIV exposure. From the start, there was reason to fear that these laws would not reduce HIV transmission, and might exacerbate stigma and social hostility towards people with HIV. There was concern they might be used selectively, or just randomly. This summer, the UN’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law advised states to repeal or abstain from enacting such laws. … In this country, the President’s National AIDS Strategy suggested states reconsider these laws, but no laws have been repealed and prosecutions continue.  Fortunately, so does research, and it continues to show that these laws are not promoting public health.

And actual transmission of HIV is irrelevant in many many cases – around 90 percent in one study. This video tore my heart apart:

An activist reader in this area writes:

The around 36 states that have HIV specific statutes are almost all just about HIV, although a few do encompass hepatitis.  I don’t know of any states that have just a hepatitis-specific statutue (or HPV specific or whatever else).  Other STIs aren’t associated specifically with an outlaw sexuality, or with people of color.

These prosecutions have little or nothing to do with whether or not one actually transmits the virus; viral transmission occurs in only a very small percentage of the prosecutions (<10% from SERO’s research to date).  Whether or not HIV was transmitted, or even the extent to which there was any actual risk of transmission, usually is not a factor in the prosecutions.  They typically boil down to whether or not the person charged can prove they disclosed.

That’s why I resist referring to them as “HIV transmission statutes”, because it reinforces the idea that transmission is relevant to getting charged.

The fact that someone is in jail for thirty years for not infecting anyone with HIV blows my mind. This is something we need to do something about – with urgency. The SERO Project can be found here. Please do what you can.

(Hat tip: Joe. My. God. More stories of the incarceration of people with HIV here at the SERO Project YouTube page.)