Protection Center: What You Need to Know About Laws That Prosecute People With HIV
March 25, 2016
For people with HIV, a contentious relationship, a personal misunderstanding or even a minor infraction of the law can lead to a long jail sentence, public shaming and registration as a sex offender. HIV-specific criminal charges have been filed more than 1,000 times.
If you have been accused, DO NOT TALK to police or investigators.
Tell them you want a lawyer and will not answer questions until you have one
They may try to convince you things "will be easier" if you cooperate; this is rarely true. Providing information before you have the help of a lawyer is NEVER to your advantage, even if you know you did nothing wrong.
Some people get convicted because they cooperated before they had a lawyer. Be polite, but absolutely do not talk, acknowledge, provide information or sign anything until you have a lawyer.
Finding a Lawyer
You have and should exercise your right to remain silent until you have a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, the state must provide one for you. Finding a lawyer knowledgeable about HIV and criminalization can be difficult.
Contact your local public defender's office, HIV legal clinic or service provider or reach out to the following agencies for a referral or other resources:
To talk to someone at Sero, email your phone number and the nature of your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is awkward, but having proof that you disclosed your status to sex partners can help protect you from prosecution (but it is no guarantee). Possible strategies include:
Should I Press Charges?
Being HIV+ is not a death sentence, but prosecuting someone could be. Pressing charges against a former sex partner might feel like the right thing to do, but it can put that person in jail for decades, require them to register as a sex offender and further stigmatizes people with HIV in your community. The person who presses charges must be prepared to have the most personal details about their life exposed in court and the media.
It is understandable to be angry if you acquire HIV and believe it is someone else's fault because they lied or didn't tell you they had HIV. But we each have the responsibility to protect ourselves. When we fail to do so, we "take" HIV from another person just as much as they "give" it to us.
It is easy to say people with HIV should always disclose their HIV status to everyone, especially sex partners. But the truth is, our society severely stigmatizes people with HIV and the ramifications of disclosure can be serious. When someone discloses, they risk a lot, sometimes including their employment, housing, family situation, custody of their children or even their personal safety. No one should knowingly put another person in danger, but not everyone will feel safe enough to disclose every single time. To expect otherwise is unrealistic.
Sometimes people file a complaint with the police and then change their mind, but it is too late. Once the police open an investigation, changing your mind may not stop a prosecution. Think carefully before initiating a legal process you might later regret.
This article was provided by The SERO Project.
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