Blog of Rights

The Los Angeles Times Weighs In on HIV Criminalization

By Steven Waddy, Legislative Assistant, ACLU at 10:04am

Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial urging passage of the REPEAL Act, a bill that would help modernize current criminal law approaches that target people living with HIV for behavior that is otherwise legal (such as consensual sex between adults) and poses no measurable risk of HIV transmission, or that singles out people living with HIV for harsh criminal penalties.

The Los Angeles Times editorial highlighted the bipartisan co-sponsorship of the legislation by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), as well as the bill's provisions that would provide states with incentives to have state laws better align with modern science and what we now know about HIV and how it is transmitted.

A choice quote from the editorial recognizes the connection between outdated science and the pernicious nature of these laws:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk can transmit the virus. And to do so, they must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be injected into the bloodstream. Saliva does not transmit HIV. It is extraordinarily rare for a human bite to transmit HIV.

In the last few years, there have been dozens of cases documented by the Center for HIV Law and Policy in which people have been charged with criminally transmitting HIV by biting or spitting (even though no transmission occurred) or convicted of failing to disclose to a sexual partner that they were HIV positive (even if the virus was not transmitted). In some states, people with these convictions have to register as sex offenders.

The ACLU is pushing for passage of the REPEAL ACT and agrees with the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

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