U.S. Government Looks to End HIV Criminalization

A man protesting current U.S. policy regarding people living with HIV/AIDS outside the White House during the International AIDS Conference in July 2012.

The Star

On July 22, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that would require the Attorney General to review current laws and regulations regarding criminal cases that involve people living with HIV. This amendment follows action taken in February by the President’s Advisory Council on AIDS to end HIV-specific criminal laws and prosecutions.

Prejudices and laws based on out-of-date science can create unique legal challenges for the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States. For example, in some cases, judges have decided that the saliva of a person living with HIV is a “deadly weapon.” Outdated laws like these have been opposed by the United Nations and other groups for decades. Now nongovernmental organizations and elected representatives are standing-up for the rights of people living with HIV, and the federal government is beginning to respond.

Sean Strub is Executive Director of the Sero Project, an organization dedicated to ending prosecutions of people living with HIV for nondisclosure or potential or perceived HIV exposure. When asked why these laws were so concerning for people involved in the fight to eliminate HIV, Strub responded, “Stigma is THE obstacle to people getting tested, accessing care, and disclosing. What is a more extreme manifestation of stigma than when the government enshrines it in the law?” When asked for his thoughts on the House’s action, he said that the changes were “Important first steps, requiring the review and identifying ways in which they are not consistent with contemporary science or are stigmatizing people with HIV.”

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.