A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health by the leading US researcher into the impacts of HIV criminalisation, Carol Galletly J.D. and Ph.D., of the Center for AIDS Intervention Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has concluded that a New Jersey law requiring individuals with HIV to disclose their HIV-positive status to their sexual partners does not appear to be an effective HIV prevention intervention.
In the article ‘New Jersey’s HIV Exposure Law and the HIV-Related Attitudes, Beliefs, and Sexual and Seropositive Status Disclosure Behaviors of a Sample of Persons Living with HIV’, Galletly and colleagues surveyed 479 HIV-positive New Jersey residents between March and October 2010 about the New Jersey law that requires HIV-positive individuals to disclose their status to sexual partners.
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C: 34-5
A person is guilty of a crime of the third degree if, knowing that he or she is infected with HIV, he or she commits an act of sexual penetration without the informed consent of the other person.
The study found that the law does not seem to be effective as an HIV prevention tool. Although 51 percent of study participants reported knowledge of the law, there was no difference between those aware and unaware of the law in terms of HIV disclosure, risky sex, and condom use. In fact, most of the participants reported complying with the letter of the law for the previous year regardless of whether they were aware of the law or not.
An article by the CDC at thebody.com summarises additional findings on HIV-related stigma and perceptions of responsibility for HIV prevention.
Knowledge of the law was not associated with negative outcomes for HIV-infected study participants. Persons aware of the law did not report greater social hostility toward persons with HIV or experience more discomfort with HIV-status disclosure or more HIV-related stigma. On the other hand, those who were not aware of the law perceived more social hostility toward HIV-infected persons, experienced greater HIV-related stigma, and were less comfortable with HIV-status disclosure.
The 479 study participants, who were aged 19 to 66 years, were 45 percent female and were approximately 66 percent African American, 16 percent Hispanic, and 13 percent Caucasian. When the researchers questioned them about responsibility for HIV prevention, 90 percent believed that an HIV-infected person bore at least half of the responsibility for ensuring that their seronegative partners did not contract the disease through sex, and 34 percent felt the HIV-infected person had the full responsibility.
Given that there were no differences in behaviours or attitudes towards HIV disclosure, safer sex or responsibility for HIV prevention between those aware of the law or not, and the very high risk of human rights violations and miscarriages of justice in the application of HIV disclosure laws, the study’s findings strongly suggest that HIV-specific criminal statutes criminalising HIV non-disclosure without consideration of actual risk and harm, and proof of a suitably culpable state of mind are bad laws that should be repealed.