Always on the grind. My latest article is the first in a series for the Black AIDS Institute on the impact of stigma on HIV prevention and treatment: "Criminalization Laws Fuel Stigma Against People Living with HIV/AIDS."
With 32 states and two territories criminalizing exposure to and/or transmission of HIV, the United States leads the world with "thousands of prosecutions," according to the United Nations-backed Global Commission on HIV and the Law. Some states penalize people for having sex without revealing their serostatus—regardless of whether a condom was used, the person's viral load was undetectable or if the virus was transmitted.
"There is already a huge stigma associated with being HIV positive—and these laws do not encourage people to get tested and seek treatment," says Robert Suttle, assistant director of the Sero Project, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization fighting HIV criminalization laws nationwide.
Suttle discovered that he was HIV positive while trying to enlist in the Air Force. Later, following the end of a contentious relationship, a former partner filed charges that Suttle never revealed his serostatus—which Suttle says is not true. He was sentenced to six months in prison under the Louisiana law that criminalizes HIV exposure and subsequently was required to register as a sex offender.
"One of my concerns around the many HIV-criminalization laws is around interpretation," saysKimberly A. Parker, Ph.D., assistant professor of health studies at Texas Woman's University. "Were they on treatment? Did they use condoms? Did they actually disclose? The implication is that whatever you do, you will be criminalized."
"Criminalization also has a significant impact on a person's ability to seek treatment," says Suttle. "Many people are not aware that they are HIV positive—and that is especially true among Black people and Black gay men." Notably, African Americans make up some 56 percent of "late testers" diagnosed with AIDS within one year of learning they have HIV. "Sometimes we could be prosecuted for something that we didn't know we had," Suttle adds.
Read the full report HERE.