And the Beat Goes On ...
By Gary Bell
March 6, 2012
As the controversy about HIV criminalization continues to rage, the state of Maryland has decided to 'up the ante,' so to speak, by proposing to add more teeth to their current HIV-specific criminal law, according to a recent article in the American Independent newspaper. Presently, a person convicted of knowingly transmitting or attempting to transmit HIV to another person may result in an $2500 fine and up to a three year prison sentence. However, Maryland state legislators are considering changing the law from a misdemeanor to a felony with an up to 25 year sentence. Despite the absence of evidence that these types of punitive methods are a deterrent and that people who know their HIV status, especially if they have achieved viral suppression with anti-retroviral therapy, are less likely to infect others, fear and and the desire for retribution continues to reign.
Another interesting article in the Philadelphia Daily News ("Its Payback Time," 3/6/12) chronicles William Brawner, an HIV+ man who knowingly had unprotected sex with several women while a student at Howard University. He eventually contacted all of the women and disclosed his HIV status. Fortunately, it does not appear that any of the women became infected. Mr. Brawner has gone on to start a non profit organization to help other HIV+ young people. I can't help but wonder if we would have ever heard his story and would he have had the opportunity to help other confused young people, as he was at one time, if he had been thrown in jail for 25 years. While there is no condoning his behavior, won't many more people benefit if he is a contributing member of society?
Transition to Hope
This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.
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