Advocates Push for HIV Criminalization Reform in the Heartland
February 17, 2012
Advocates are fighting back against an Iowa HIV criminalization law that could land anyone found guilty a prison term of up to 25 years and a lifetime label of sex offender.
According to The Daily Iowan, Catherine Hanssens, director of the HIV Center for Law and Policy, "calls the policies underlying most HIV transmission laws 'decades out of date,' and says a much more nuanced approach is needed. 'Most laws treat HIV like it is transmitted with ease,' she said. 'With modern medical knowledge, we understand that this is just not the case.'"
But Iowa requires people living with HIV to inform partners of their status prior to having sex. Failure to disclose is considered a class B felony.
According to Iowa Code 709C, it is a crime if an HIV-positive person "engages in intimate contact with another person," or "transfers, donates, or provides the person's blood, tissue, semen, organs, or other potentially infectious bodily fluids for transfusion, transplantation, insemination, or other administration to another person," without disclosing their status first. The code defines "intimate contact" as "the intentional exposure of the body of one person to a bodily fluid of another person in a manner that could result in the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus."
In fact, even on HIV meds and with an undetectable viral load, people can be found guilty if they have consensual sex without disclosing their HIV status, as was the case recently for two HIV-positive Iowa residents.
Donald Bogardus, whose next hearing is in early March, faces up to 25 years in prison for not informing his partner that he was positive before they agreed to have sex. Nicholas Rhoades, who also engaged in consensual sex without disclosing his status, used a condom, but was still found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison, though WCFCourier.com reported the sentence was reduced to five years probation.
Neither of the accusers in these cases contracted HIV.
But transmission isn't necessary for prosecution, according to the Iowa Code: "This section shall not be construed to require that an infection with the human immunodeficiency virus has occurred for a person to have committed criminal transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus."
Now advocates are pushing for Iowa to revise the Code.
Furthermore, laws like these assume that individuals living with HIV are the only ones responsible for preventing transmission. The Daily Iowan further reported:
Ultimately, whether the laws are revised or not, The Daily Iowan points out "the difficulty of proving that somebody said or didn't say something when courts must rely on assertions about private acts."
Meanwhile, an HIV-positive man in Missouri faces up to 15 years in prison for biting a police officer last June. In Missouri, simply biting a person is considered acting "in a reckless manner by exposing another person to HIV without the knowledge and consent of that person to be exposed to HIV," and is a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison depending on transmission, according to Missouri Statute 191.677.
Oscar Mairena, senior associate for Viral Hepatitis/Policy and Legislative Affairs at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), told the Center for HIV Law and Policy, "Persistent misinformation about how HIV is transmitted, and what it means to have HIV in 2012, is a major cause of these laws and can create a major barrier to convincing people that it is safe and necessary to get tested. These cases and these laws are based on stigma, not science, and pose a major threat to our nation's public health."
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
Copyright © 2012 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.
This article was provided by TheBody.
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