Protection Center: What You Need to Know About Laws That Prosecute People With HIV
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.
- Do not acknowledge your HIV status.
- Do not provide blood, saliva or give permission for any medical tests.
- Do not sign any documents.
- Do not volunteer any information.
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:
- Sero Project: seroproject.com, or email us at email@example.com, please include your phone number
- Lambda Legal Defense: lambdalegal.org, Lambda's website has "helpline" numbers for different parts of the country
- ACLU (to find your local ACLU chapter): aclu.org
- Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (mostly focused in New England): glad.org
- AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania (mostly in PA and NJ): aidslawproject.org
- AIDS Law of Louisiana: aidslaw.org
- Whitman-Walker Legal Services (Washington, D.C.): wwc.org
- Duke AIDS Legal Project (North Carolina): aidslegalproject.org
- Public Law Center (Southern California): publiclawcenter.org
- Center for HIV Law & Policy: www.hivlawandpolicy.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:
- Have your partner sign a disclosure acknowledgement form (see sample).
- Save email, text exchanges, voicemail recordings, social media profiles or other evidence that you disclosed your HIV status (If arrested, your computer may be seized; save copies in a safe separate location).
- Take your partner with you to your doctor or caseworker and ask them to note your partner's knowledge of your HIV+ status in your file.
- Talk about your HIV+ status in front of your partner and a third party you trust who could testify that you disclosed.
- Make a video with your partner talking about your HIV status.
- Keep a diary noting occasions when you discussed your HIV status with your partner.
- Make note of physical evidence of your HIV status, like medications in clear sight, doctor visit reminders, printed HIV-related brochures or magazines, etc., that others have seen.
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.
[Note from TheBody: This article was created by The SERO Project. Last reviewed by TheBody on May 2, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]