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New Report Examines Discriminatory State HIV Criminalization Laws

Report released on World AIDS Day highlights how these outdated laws perpetuate dangerous misinformation and aren’t based in fact or modern science

Denver, CO, December 1, 2016 — A new report released today by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) focuses on HIV criminalization laws, which can still carry penalties such as 35-year prison terms and registration as a sex offender for behaviors now proven to have no risk of transmitting HIV. LGBT Policy Spotlight: HIV Criminalization Laws reports that four in five lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people (81%) live in states with HIV criminalization laws, while an additional 16% live in states where general criminal laws have been used to criminalize people living with HIV. The report examines the problematic basis for these laws as well as their detriment to public health and the justice system.

Over the past 35 years, 38 states have passed laws that have not kept up with modern medical research and facts about the risks, likelihood, and modes of transmission of HIV. These HIV criminalization laws therefore often criminalize a range of behaviors that are now known to carry no or a negligible risk of transmission. Most of these laws also not only criminalize the intentional transmission of HIV, but also criminalize behaviors that unintentionally or accidentally exposed others to the virus. Together, these laws perpetuate dangerous stigmas and misinformation about the disease and people living with HIV, create a strong disincentive for individuals to find out their HIV status, and disproportionately target—and add to higher rates of incarceration for—LGBT people.

A chilling example of the impact of these outdated laws is the case of Robert Suttle. After graduating from Louisiana State University -Shreveport, Suttle successfully worked for Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeal as an assistant clerk. However, after a contentious romantic relationship ended, Suttle’s former partner filed criminal charges against Suttle for allegedly not having disclosed his HIV status when they first met. Due to effective transmission prevention measures taken by Suttle, it was never determined whether his partner had contracted HIV and Suttle was not accused of transmitting HIV nor of lying about his HIV status. However, he was prosecuted under a Louisiana law that effectively requires people with HIV to disclose that status prior to having sexual contact, regardless of whether they engage in activity that has a risk of HIV transmission. Rather than face a possible a 10-year prison sentence, Suttle accepted a plea bargain and served six months in prison. He is required to register as a sex offender through 2024, and the words “sex offender” are printed in red capital letters underneath his picture on his driver’s license. “Living with HIV is not a crime, and yet, here I was facing a 10-year prison sentence,” said Suttle. MAP’s report includes commonsense policy recommendations to reduce the harmful consequences of such laws and encourages states to modernize or repeal their HIV criminalization laws.

“HIV criminalization laws were often put in place in the 1980s, so they aren’t based in modern science or fact,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP. “They often criminalize behaviors with no risk of transmission, they ignore modern prevention methods and modern medical treatment, and unlike other criminal laws, they don’t take into account whether someone intended to cause harm. The result is that people living with HIV are at constant risk for exceedingly harsh criminal sentences simply because they have HIV. It’s time to modernize or repeal these outdated, punitive and stigmatizing laws.”

The report is part of MAP’s LGBT Policy Spotlights series, which provides in-depth analyses of the LGBT-related laws and policies tracked on our Equality Maps. Updated daily, the Movement Advancement Project’s Equality Maps track LGBT equality, populations, and other data by state. They provide up-to-date information on the status of state laws across a wide range of issues, from employment discrimination and relationship recognition to hate crimes protections and anti-bullying laws. The Equality Maps allow websites to embed the maps easily and for free. Visit www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps to learn more.

The report is available at www.lgbtmap.org/HIVCrimLaws

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Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. www.lgbtmap.org

Media Contact:
Calla Rongerude
Movement Advancement Project
415.205.2420