Policy & Politics
Mass. Gov. Romney Files Bill That Would Require "On-Demand" HIV Testing for Suspects Accused of Sexual Assault
January 6, 2006
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) on Thursday filed a bill that would require "on-demand" HIV testing for suspects accused of rape or sexual assault if the survivor requests it, the Boston Globe reports. The bill would allow survivors to request the test if the alleged assailant has been indicted for or formally charged with the crime. The bill also would require the state Office of Victims Assistance to form a proposal for keeping testing information confidential. Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (R), who is a criminologist and has researched sexual assault, said the bill seeks to fix loopholes in the current law. Survivors "cannot simply test themselves for HIV because it can take up to six weeks for tests to detect the virus," so survivors can choose to take a monthlong treatment of three drugs used to prevent HIV transmission. However, many women "balk" at this because of possible severe side effects -- such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea -- according to the Globe. Some doctors say a HIV-positive test result for alleged assailants might encourage survivors to complete the treatment (Mishra, Boston Globe, 1/6). In a statement from the governor's office, Healey said, "For far too long, victims of sexual assault in Massachusetts have suffered not only with the trauma of the attack, but also the specter of HIV infection" (Romney release, 1/5). Some lawyers and HIV/AIDS advocates are criticizing the measure, saying it would take away suspects' privacy rights, while doing little to provide useful information to rape and sexual assault survivors (AP/Boston Channel.com, 1/5). AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Executive Director Rebecca Haag in a statement said, "Survivors of sexual assault have only 72 hours to decide whether to take the drugs that can prevent HIV infection," adding, "It is rare that the legal system can respond that quickly." AAC, along with other organizations, has offered to meet with Romney's administration to "fully investigate these complex issues" and review the legislation, according to AAC (AAC release, 1/5). According to the Globe, Massachusetts is one of five states without such a law in place (Boston Globe, 1/6).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.