Spit and Other "Deadly Weapons"
In May of this year, a 42-year-old HIV positive man in Texas who spat at a police officer during an arrest received a cumulative sentence of 35 years by a Dallas court after a jury was convinced that the man had used his saliva as a "deadly weapon." More than 180 media outlets around the world picked up news of the case -- but only a handful clarified the impossibility of contracting HIV by being spit on. Since then, the media has reported on at least three other cases of the criminal prosecution of people accused of exposing others to HIV by spitting.
Criminalizing transmission of HIV exacerbates vulnerability to infection; it has no preventative effects, further stigmatizes people already living with HIV, and discourages others from disclosing their status or being tested, since it is only those who actually get tested who are subject to prosecution. Further, these cases undermine the efforts of public health and community advocates who have worked tirelessly over the years to educate the public about HIV transmission.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long maintained that contact with saliva, tears, or sweat does not expose others to an appreciable risk of HIV transmission. In light of increasing HIV prevalence in the United States, it is incumbent upon the CDC to combat dangerously misleading information concerning the transmission and communicability of HIV being advanced through the criminal prosecutions of people living with HIV. Effective HIV communication and education strategies that are accessible to the public are needed immediately.
HIV advocates are coming together to call on the CDC for leadership on this issue. CHAMP is circulating a sign-on letter urging the CDC to position itself as the primary resource for accurate information about HIV transmission, using clear messaging and key spokespersons to communicate to the widest possible audience. The letter encourages the CDC to work in close collaboration with state health departments, legal and policy advocates, and community educators nationwide to increase the range and type of HIV/AIDS education materials created specifically for those working within the criminal justice and court systems.
The letter also calls on the CDC to develop a rapid communication response, including fact sheets that address transmission myths to combat scientifically unfounded prosecutorial and judicial responses to HIV exposure incidents as well as the related media and public misinformation about HIV transmission.
CDC leadership on this issue could end the government's role in reinforcing HIV-related stigma. The CDC must address the baseless prosecution of HIV positive people. To read and sign onto the community letter to the CDC, please click here.
HIV positive people should not have to suffer the fear of prosecution, persecution and disclosure by the judicial system. It is time for us to work collaboratively to stop the needless and inhumane criminalization of people living with HIV.
This article was provided by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project.
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