Updated: Positive Women's Network-United States of America Congratulates the PACHA for passing Criminalization Resolution
In observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Positive Women's Network -- USA (PWN-USA) urges the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) to pass resolution condemning HIV criminalization laws and end the pipeline of unjust incarceration of Black men and women living with HIV in the United States
Washington, D.C. -- Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a fact sheet entitled "HIV and AIDS among African Americans." This fact sheet indicates that Black Americans continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV and to suffer worse health outcomes once infected. According to the CDC, young Black American gay men "now account for more new HIV infections than any other (population) group." Furthermore, Black American women, despite a slight decline in new HIV infections, continue to "be more affected by HIV than women of any other race or ethnicity."
But the disproportionate impact of HIV on Black Americans (and on immigrant communities of African descent, for whom no accurate national data are available) cannot be decoupled from the social and structural injustices that put people of African descent at increased risk for poor health outcomes -- including racism, economic injustice, and disproportionate interaction with and treatment by the criminal justice system. Overlaying the disparate impact of HIV on Black communities with disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, and superimposing HIV criminalization laws on top of that is a spark waiting to ignite a new wave of incarceration of people of African descent.
Blacks Americans comprised 12.1% of the total population in the United States. In 2008, Black American men made up 40.2% of all prison inmates and Black American women comprised 32.6% of incarcerated women. The same social determinants such as poverty, education, housing and employment which dictate high levels of incarceration also dictate high levels of HIV infection. Criminalization has always been used as a means to control people who are poor, discriminated against and otherwise disenfranchised. And the policing of the bodies, sexuality and reproduction of people of color in this country is nothing new. HIV criminalization laws are just another tool in the toolbox to control communities of color and poor people.
Further -- despite the fact that in many cases where sentences are being served no transmission of HIV actually occurred -- the criminalization of HIV is now being used to justify the creation of new laws regarding the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. A series of public health gymnastics that will, no doubt, once again disproportionately impact black Americans.
PWN-USA vehemently rejects the notion that criminalization of HIV exposure, non-disclosure, or transmission serves the public health of the American people. Data shows that HIV criminalization laws may have a chilling effect on people's desire to get tested, access care when needed, and stay on treatment. HIV criminalization laws complicate disclosure -- sometimes creating an incentive "not to tell." And as women living with HIV, we know from experience that the threat of HIV criminalization is often used as a tool of abuse, coercion, and manipulation in relationships. Thus, criminalization of HIV makes us unsafe, even in our own homes.
It is the responsibility of public health advocates and the government to safeguard our collective health and individual rights. Today, in observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we urge the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) to take real leadership on this issue and to pass a resolution condemning HIV criminalization laws as based in outdated science and detrimental to public health goals, including the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, especially for Black Americans.
In sisterhood and solidarity,
Positive Women's Network-United States of America (PWN-USA)
Read PWN-USA's blog, U.S. Positive Women's Network