Utah House Committee: Sex Without HIV Disclosure Is 'Nonconsensual'
On Friday, Utah's House Judiciary Committee voted to expand the state's definition of nonconsensual sex to include when a person with HIV who knows his or her status does not disclose it prior to sexual conduct. The bill would also increase penalties for other sexual offenses when the person convicted has HIV.
"It doesn't criminalize HIV; it only criminalizes the act. So, if someone's HIV positive and they disclose, there's no problem," the sponsor of HB 369, Representative Justin Fawson, told Salt Lake City's FOX 13. "There's always a potential of transmitting HIV. We can't reduce that to zero. They have to inform a partner that they are HIV positive."
However, there is now scientific consensus that people with HIV who are virally suppressed are not at risk of transmitting HIV through sex. On Tuesday, the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) released a statement affirming that durably virally suppressed people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) do not sexually transmit the virus.
"The science is clear that people living with HIV with a sustained undetectable viral load do not transmit the virus to others. What's also clear is that we have the tools to end the HIV epidemic and HIV-related stigma and make new infections a thing of the past. Today, we tackle a major part of this work by raising awareness about the latest science of HIV transmission risk," stated NASTAD executive director Murray Penner in the release.
Sean Strub, executive director of the Sero Project, a national group focused on HIV criminalization issues, told the TheBody.com that "what has been proposed in Utah is dangerous, short-sighted, contrary to best public health practices and almost certain to make the epidemic in Utah worse."
According to FOX 13, only two of eleven members of the state House Judiciary Committee voted against sending the bill to the full Utah House of Representatives for further consideration. OnTop Magazine noted that the committee is chaired by Representative LaVar Christensen, whom they called a "vocal opponent of LGBT rights."
In a hearing on the bill, Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said the state should promote HIV testing and treatment, and expressed concern that HB 369 could hamper efforts to prevent sexually transmitted infections, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
"We should absolutely be enhancing penalties for intent and harm, but not the health status of the perpetrator. We would want to do everything in our power to open the doors to encourage people to be tested," he reportedly said.
JD Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.