US: New report by the Williams Institute shows clear disparities in enforcement of HIV criminalization laws in Florida

Study shows impact of HIV criminalization laws 

Los Angeles – Florida laws that criminalize people living with HIV directly affected 614 people from 1986 to 2017, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Researchers found that women were disproportionately affected by HIV criminalization. White women were disproportionately arrested for HIV offenses in Florida, and black women were most likely to be convicted for HIV offenses related to sex work. HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based upon a person’s HIV-positive status. More than two-thirds of US states and territories have enacted HIV criminal laws.

“Our study shows that certain communities, whether defined by gender, race/ethnicity, or sex-worker status, are bearing more of the weight of these laws,” said lead author Amira Hasenbush. “What’s more, these HIV criminal laws, which were originally intended to control the spread of HIV by prosecuting individuals who expose others, don’t require proof of transmission or even exposure in most cases. So the laws are not doing what they set out to do.”

Key findings: Individuals were arrested under HIV-related statutes in 47 out of the 67 counties in Florida. The highest prevalence of HIV in the state is found in Miami-Dade (24%) and Broward Counties (18%), but those counties represent only 4% and 3%, respectively, of the HIV-related arrests. On the other hand, Duval County is home to only 6% of the people living with HIV in Florida but 23% of all HIV-related arrests in the state. Over half (56%) of all individuals arrested under an HIV-related offense were women. More than four in ten people arrested under an HIV-related offense were black (43%) and white women were more likely to be arrested for an HIV-criminal offense than other groups. Black men were more likely to be convicted of an HIV-related offense than white men and white women. Convictions for HIV arrests were twice as likely when there was a concurrent sex work arrest than when the HIV offense occurred outside of the context of sex work. Read the report

Published in Baltimore Outloud on October 13, 2018