August 31, 2010
As you and I relax here, surfing the internet, an HIV positive man is sitting in a Texas prison, serving a 35 year sentence for spitting on someone. In Michigan, an HIV positive man was charged for not disclosing his status under a bio-terrorism statute. And there's a statute on the books in Iowa that can jail you for kissing someone without disclosing.
The level of stigma, ignorance and injustice of these examples is frightening, and caseloads are growing. Already, there have been over 400 prosecutions in the United States and more than 200 convictions.
And just weeks ago, Nadja Benaissa, an HIV positive German pop star, barely escaped prison when a judge gave her a suspended sentence for not disclosing to her sexual partners.
This is an emotional issue that carries some baggage. Many of us have a friend who was infected by someone who lied about their status or didn't disclose, and these infuriating instances make me want to see those people "pay" for what they did. But the more I have learned about the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, the more I am convinced these laws are applied badly and actually do more harm than good. If I don't get tested, I can't be prosecuted for not disclosing my status, right?
At the Gay Men's Health Summit, I spoke with an iconic figure in the AIDS movement, POZ Magazine founder Sean Strub following his workshop on criminalization. Sean is the force behind the Positive Justice Project, which advocates against HIV criminalization as part of the HIV/AIDS Center for Law and Policy.
Sean does a terrific job at explaining the harm to public health created by criminalization laws. I'd also like to mention the great work being done by Edwin Bernard in Europe and AIDSMap regarding this issue. And of course, TheBody.com has a great overview of articles on this topic.
Do you support laws that criminalize people who don't disclose their status before sex? Should they be repealed? I'll be interested in your reactions to this interview!
In the meantime, my friends, please be well.
Visit Mark's live blog at www.MyFabulousDisease.com.