HIV Criminalization Discourages Testing
7/25/2012 4:45:00 PM
By Alex Garner
Today at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. the Sero Project released findings from its historic survey of HIV-positive people. The groundbreaking survey of more than 2000 HIV-positive people exposes the detrimental impact of HIV criminalization. Such laws discourage people from getting tested and accessing treatment, which can contribute to more infections.
“We expected the survey to show criminalization is a deterrent to HIV testing, but these findings indicate it is an even bigger obstacle than previously believed,” said Laurel Sprague, the project’s principal investigator who is also Sero’s Research Director.
Here are some highlights of the findings.
One quarter of respondents (25.1%) indicated they knew one or more people who told them they did not want to get tested for HIV because of fear of prosecution if they tested positive; more than 5% indicated that “many people”have told them this.
Almost half of respondents (49.6%) felt it could be reasonable for someone to avoid testing for HIV, and 41.6% felt it could be reasonable to avoid HIV treatment for fear of prosecution.
More than a third (38.4%) reported they worried a few times or frequently about being falsely accused of not disclosing their HIV positive status; amongst transgendered persons that figure rose to 60%.
Just less than two-thirds (62.7%) of respondents were not certain whether or not their state required people with HIV to disclose their status to a partner before having sex, with the uncertainty highest in the Northeast (72.4%) and West (71.3%) and South (61.6%) and lowest in the Midwest (40.4%).
“This is a wake-up call for public health officials and policymakers who have failed to recognize the extent to which HIV criminalization hampers efforts to combat AIDS. We’ve known for years that HIV criminal statutes do not achieve their intended purpose, to reduce HIV transmission. Now it is clear that these statutes are driving the epidemic, because of how they fuel stigma and discourage HIV testing and accessing the treatment that reduces transmission,” said Sean Strub, Sero’s executive director and the founder of POZ Magazine.
Many of these laws were created at a time of fear or ignorance yes many states don’t need an HIV specific law to bring charges for non-disclosure. There is no evidence to support the idea that these laws do anything to prevent HIV infections. In fact, these recent information demonstrates claims people have been making for some time –HIV criminalization keeps people from getting tested and drives the epidemic. On top of that, such laws increase anti-HIV stigma and ignorance.
The United States has one of the worst records in the world in regards to HIV criminalization and many prosecutions can result in lengthy prison sentences and being labeled as a sex-offender. The Sero Project is working to get these laws changed, and are also seeking a review of all convictions of people for HIV non-disclosure.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced legislation to repeal HIV criminalization laws in the U.S. and she is working in conjunction with The Sero Project and the HIV Justice Network to change laws around the globe. The evidence clearly indicates that an AIDS free generation will not be achieved when people are still criminalized for having HIV.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/alexgarnerla and join me on Facebook.