October 26, 2012
Usually when there isn't an assault, there isn't a criminal prosecution. Yet this never appears to be the case when dealing with HIV criminalization laws. Mark A. Hunter, 33, of Washington, D.C., is currently in the pre-trial stages of being charged with "non-disclosure" for not telling his long-term girlfriend that he is HIV positive. The woman only brought the charges after they separated, even though she has since tested negative for HIV and Hunter used condoms and had a zero viral load. Despite the non-transmission, Mark still faces up to 30 years in prison.
This is in addition to the charges he faced earlier, where his ex-fiancée also pressed charges against Mark for his non-disclosure, even though she too has since tested negative and Mark always used condoms with her as well.
Mark and his brother were born with severe hemophilia and contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. When Mark and his brother were diagnosed with HIV, the doctor told Mark's mother that they should never discuss the kids' HIV status because their community would turn against them. In Mark's telling of his story, he did eventually tell his then-fiancée he was HIV-positive before proposing, and after his disclosure she accepted his proposal, and the two started looking at churches to host their wedding. It wasn't until after the couple separated in December 2005 that she pressed charges, in April 2006, even though she was HIV-negative.
Mark's case is a very tragic reminder of the nonsensical HIV criminalization laws that continue to run rampant across the United States, even as political leaders, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) and AIDS advocates across the country call for an end to these laws. Make no mistake, these laws do more harm than good. In addition to creating a false sense of security, something akin to: I am safe because transmission is illegal, these laws also supersede safer-sex messages that advocate for sexual partners to have discussions about HIV testing and status before sexual contact.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, these laws may actually deter testing, as the possibility of prosecution is nullified if the person was unaware of their status. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by the Sero Project, "A full 24 percent of respondents reported knowing at least one person who declined to take an HIV test for fear of prosecution, and 10 percent of young gay, bisexual, or other MSM living with HIV, and 13 percent of transgender PLHIV, said that they might advise someone to avoid HIV testing because of the possibility of prosecution."
HIV criminalization laws create a culture of fear, control, and dehumanization, rather than facilitating a dialogue about HIV education, stigma, and discrimination.
To deny people living with HIV/AIDS the intimacy inherent in sexual contact, when consent is bestowed and protection is used, is to deny them the most basic aspects of what makes us human: desire, attachment, and affection. Yet 32 states and 2 U.S. territories criminalize HIV transmission, even when the virus is never actually transmitted, as in Mark's case.
To learn more about HIV criminalization laws, or to hear Mark tell his story, visit seroproject.com.