January 29, 2013
Ariz. Rep. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) has proposed HB2218, a bill that would make it a felony to intentionally expose others to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. Alston explained that she wrote the bill after she heard about a woman in her district who had contracted an STD from a man who did not inform her of his infection. According to Alston, this behavior constitutes criminal intent.
The bill would make it a Class 6 felony for an individual who knows he or she is infected with HIV or one of eight listed STDs to intentionally expose others to the disease. The bill would also redefine exposure to include engaging in sexual intercourse or sodomy; selling or donating tissue, organs, or bodily fluids; and sharing needles or syringes. Ariz. Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson), who is a primary sponsor of the bill, commented that it is important for the bill to "cover other things that are not yet protected or that we're not holding people accountable (for)," as individuals are also transmitting diseases in ways other than sexual intimacy.
Anthony Paik, associate professor of sociology and gender, women's and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa, noted that it is difficult to know how often people intentionally expose others to HIV or STDs. He stated that he was not aware of any research on the matter, but he has heard of anecdotal accounts. Also, Adina Nack, a senior research fellow for the Council on Contemporary Families, said that the bill could be "potentially quite dangerous," depending on how the emphasis on knowledge of being infected is interpreted. Nack felt that this type of legislation could discourage people from getting tested, treated, and diagnosed.
Veda Collmer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Visiting Attorney at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, stated that in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a trend to criminalize this type of behavior, but the laws that were passed then have almost all been repealed. She said that it is very difficult to prosecute individuals under such a law as "it would be hard to meet the burden of proof."
Alston remarked that she is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for her bill. She hoped that reasonable people would see it as an important issue, which is very devastating to the person involved. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but so far a hearing has not been scheduled.