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Rep. Lee Introduces Groundbreaking Anti-HIV Criminalization Bill

September 26, 2011

Finally, a chance at justice: The first bill to attack HIV criminalization is introduced.

Finally, a chance at justice: The first bill to attack HIV criminalization is introduced.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced an unprecedented piece of legislation that could put an end to laws that impose cruel and unfair penalties on HIV-positive people in the U.S.

The bill, called the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, calls for a review of all federal and state laws, policies and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. It then creates incentives for governments to reform existing policies that use the law to target HIV-positive people.

Introduced Thursday, the legislation "relies on science and public health, rather than punishment, as the lead response to HIV exposure and transmission incidents," said Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the New York-based Center for HIV Law and Policy.

"It embodies the courage and leadership needed to replace expensive, pointless and punitive reactions to the complex challenge of HIV with approaches that can truly reduce transmission and stigma."


Thirty-four states and two U.S. territories have criminal statutes that punish people for exposing or transmitting HIV to another individual. Punishments range from a fine to up to 30 years in prison, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy. In some states, exposure or transmission is a felony, and convicted individuals are sometimes forced to register as sex offenders, a label that drastically affects job, housing and education prospects for the rest of their lives.

"This bill gives a lot of people hope," said Tracy Johnson, 23, an HIV-positive man from Ohio, where engaging in sexual activity before disclosing HIV status is a felony. "These laws have made me feel like I'm a criminal because I have this illness. Even if I disclose, I know I can still be arrested if my partner gets mad at me and tells the police I didn't do so."

For years, many AIDS activists have argued that laws that punish HIV exposure or transmission cannot be applied justly. Instead of protecting the public health, activists argue, these statutes often backfire, discouraging people from seeking testing.

A fact sheet created by the Center for HIV Law and Policy, AIDS United, Lambda Legal and the ACLU AIDS Project summarizes the problems with HIV criminalization and the measures the new bill takes to address them.

The bill has 12 cosponsors. Is your representative one of them?

Cosponsors: Reps. Donna Christensen (D-VI); Hansen Clarke (D-MI-13); Steve Cohen (D-TN-9); Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7); Maurice Hinchey D-NY-22); Jesse Jackson D-IL-2); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Mike Quigley (D-IL-5); Charles Rangel (D-NY-15); Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP); Jose Serrano (D-NY-16); Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6).

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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also's Just Diagnosed Resource Center
Telling Others You're HIV Positive
More on U.S. Laws/News Regarding HIV Disclosure

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Azul Azul (San Antonio, TX) Fri., Sep. 30, 2011 at 12:15 pm EDT
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Comment by: Lisa (Florida) Thu., Sep. 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm EDT
I totally disagree with the laws of criminalization being removed! Being a person living with HIV & testing positive after being with a man in a committed relationship where my partner knew he had at the very least been exposed many years prior if not had already been tested by anonymous testing. I take my end of responsibility of not having protected sex however these laws are justifiable in my opinion! This SAME man has gone on to since have a baby with another woman whom he also infected AFTER having a positive test by name on file as well as has had another woman test positive due to his lack of caring about anyone but his own needs. My story is PROOF that NO law will change a person if they have no morals nor no remorse for their actions. He KNEW he had been exposed, as a matter of fact CHOOSE to be exposed after a stripper he was dating disclosed her status to him yet he made the choice for all of us to live with HIV without any concern to our lives not to mention the life of his unborn child. I do not believe as a person living with HIV myself that we should NOT be held accountable for our actions. The laws should remain as they are! If these laws get changed I cannot even imagine how rampant this disease will become & we think it's a problem now? On every discussion board the most important point made by any positive person will always be that this has affected their dating lives more than anything. Are people really just this stupid in thinking not having these laws will help de- stigmatize HIV/AIDS? This thinking is absolutely insane, how can decriminalizing non disclosure remove stigma from this virus? It will NOT...again my thoughts are the only thing it WILL do is allow those whom are positive the right by LAW to not disclose!! So go ahead pass this law & see the facts when it is too late...while the State Senate is at it why not decriminalize murder, rape, sexual predators & all other heinous crimes's ALL one in the same in my eyes!
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Comment by: Anonymous (NY, NY) Sat., Oct. 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm EDT

I TOO infected by a man who I was in a committed relationship. We were 99% having protected sex, but unfortunately that 1% of chance had get into me! I don't think keep "Discriminating" HIV+ population will do any good. I feel your pain and I'm sorry for your situation, but please understanding NOT everyone deserve being discriminated or living under fear for normal activities, e.g. Protected Sex.


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