Editorial: “Leave no-one behind” when working to end HIV criminalisation

An editorial published to coincide with Zero Discrimination Day (March 1) by leaders in the HIV Justice movement celebrates “the courage and commitment of the growing global community of advocates, human rights defenders and others around the world who are challenging laws, policies and practices that inappropriately and unjustly criminalize people living with HIV”, but warns that this work must include and benefit those populations who are the most marginalised, and who remain most vulnerable to prosecution, despite advances in HIV science that are being used to challenge and modernise these laws.

Writing in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, the authors – who include HJN’s Executive Director, Edwin J Bernard; HJN’s Supervisory Board member, Michaela Clayton; and HJN’s Global Advisory Panel member, Edwin Cameron, along with Chris Beyrer, Desmond M. Tutu Professor of Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and GNP+’s Alexandra Volgina – note that despite many advances in the science of HIV there remains one area that is still an “all too common a threat to the lives and wellbeing of people living with HIV, as well as to the goal of ending the epidemic” – HIV criminalisation.

HIV criminalisation describes the unjust application of criminal and similar laws to people living with HIV ostensibly based on their HIV status, either via HIV‐specific criminal statutes or general criminal or other laws.

Citing data collated from HJN’s global case monitoring which suggests that HIV criminalisation intersects with “discrimination or criminalization on the basis of ethnicity, sex, gender identity, immigration status, sex work, sexuality and/or substance use,” they note that HIV criminalisation can be seen as a “surrogate marker for state‐sponsored stigma and discrimination against marginalized groups of people at higher risk of HIV.”

The editorial also addresses public health and healthcare workers who are often viewed as an extension of the criminal justice system by marginalised populations. “We are also seeing a frightening trend of prosecutions being initiated by those working in healthcare or public health without specific complaints. In some cases, police were notified of a person’s HIV diagnosis by health authorities, which then became a prompt to investigate the person’s relationship with their partner.”

Relatively few countries have repealed or modernised their laws, although efforts are currently underway across the globe, assisted by the 2018 publication of the Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law authored by 20 of the world’s leading HIV scientists, including Professor Beyrer.

The editorial celebrates and encourages the growing number of global advocates, human rights defenders and others around the world who are challenging HIV criminalisation but notes that everyone involved in the HIV response needs to play their part. “Ending HIV criminalization is the responsibility of us all,” they argue.

“It is important that we all understand how to ensure justice for all people living with HIV, not just those who have access to treatment and are fortunate enough to be undetectable,” they conclude, “so that we can finally end these outrageously unjust laws, policies and practices against people living with HIV in all of their diversity.”

US: Bill introduced in Illinois to reform HIV criminalisation law

Advocates and Legislators Introduce Bill to Decriminalize HIV in Illinois

Legislation was introduced in Springfield today to end criminal penalties against people living with HIV (PLWH), which serve only to stigmatize and discriminate against PLWH. Current Illinois law makes legal behavior – like consensual sex – illegal, and adds harsh penalties for ordinarily minor crimes such as sharing injection-drug equipment. Under current law, PLWH face the threat of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration even if they do not transmit HIV to another person.

“The truth is HIV criminalization does not improve safety or public health in Illinois – instead, it often has the opposite effect. Not a single study throughout the country shows HIV criminalization has reduced HIV transmission in any jurisdiction where it exists. We have also seen through the decades how HIV criminalization laws disproportionately impact women and the Black community. It is time to repeal this destructive law,” said State Senator Robert Peters, Senate legislative sponsor.

“A person living with HIV/AIDS already encounters difficult health disparities. However, the damage that Illinois’ HIV criminalization law has on people living with HIV is even more than the lifelong impact of the criminal justice system, especially for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. It is harm that happens every day, slowly, to our community’s mental and emotional health by being singled out and stigmatized,” said Christian F. Castro, steering committee member of the Illinois HIV Action Alliance (IHAA).

“As a national network of women and people of trans experience living with HIV, Positive Women’s Network – USA is thrilled at this opportunity to end the discriminatory and unjust HIV criminalization law in Illinois. HIV criminalization laws are often justified as somehow protecting women; in reality, they are too commonly used by abusive partners to control and coerce women and trans folks living with HIV. They have done nothing to reduce HIV transmission over the past 45 years but they have done much to promote stigma and cause suffering to people living with HIV, their families and their communities,” said Breanna Diaz, Policy Director, Positive Women’s Network – USA.

“The Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) recognizes that these outdated, dangerous and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of color. To ensure an equitable state for Black and Brown individuals and to promote science-based and proven HIV public health strategies of testing, prevention and engagement in care, it’s essential lawmakers repeal Illinois’ HIV criminalization law. Illinois’ HIV criminalization law is rooted in fear and racial biases, and we certainly know that criminalization increases stigma and harms in marginalized communities,” said Chris Wade, Illinois Public Health Association.

Senate Bill 655 would amend the Criminal Code of 2012, repeal the statute creating the offense of criminal transmission of HIV, and make conforming changes in the AIDS Confidentiality Act, the Illinois Sexually Transmissible Disease Control Act, the Illinois Vehicle Code, the Criminal Code of 2012, and the Unified Code of Corrections.

Advocacy organizations who have joined the Illinois HIV Action Alliance coalition and have signed on to support SB 655 include: ACLU of Illinois, African-American Lesbian Professionals Having A Say (A.L.P.H.A.S.), AIDS Foundation Chicago, Angii’s Angel’s, Brothers Health Collective, Calor, Central Illinois Friends, Chicago House and Social Services, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Community Renewal Society (CRS), Equality Illinois, Howard Brown Health, Illinois Public Health Association, Lambda Legal, Legal Council for Health Justice, Peoria Proud, Prairie Pride Coalition, Pride Action Tank (a project of AFC), QC PRIDE, INC., Rush University System for Health, Sinai Infectious Disease Center, Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP), The Sero Project, TPAN, Transformative Justice Law Project, and Women Connection (a project of AFC).

You can read the language for Senate Bill 655 here

Nigeria: Jigawa State adopts law recommending death penalty in cases of rape resulting in HIV transmission

Jigawa Assembly passes law stipulating life sentence for rapist

The violence against persons prohibition law also stipulates death penalty for rape convicts who infect their victims with HIV/AIDS.

The Jigawa State House of Assembly on Wednesday passed a law that stipulates a life sentence for rape.

The violence against persons prohibition law also stipulates death penalty for rape convicts who infect their victims with HIV/AIDS.

The passage of the bill followed the adoption of the report of the House Committee on Justice and Judiciary.

The committee is chaired by Abubakar Jallo and has seven other members.

After deliberation and subsequent adoption of the report by the committee of the Whole House, the Speaker, Idris Garba, announced the passage of the bill into law.

The bill was unanimously agreed by the 30 House members representing the 27 council areas of the state.

The law, to be transmuted to Governor Muhammed Badaru for assent, has 58 recommendations, including life imprisonment for rape offenders and death sentence without an option of fine for infecting rape victim (s) with HIV/AIDS.

After the plenary, Mr Jallo told reporters that rape victim(s) would be compensated with not less than N500,000, while the court would order rape offender to be subjected to public shame through radio announcements and other means the court may deem fit.

Mr Jallo, representing Hadejia constituency, added that the use of chemical, biological or any harmful substance that causes lifetime deformity on the victim will attract life imprisonment without an option of fine.

US[Update]: Virginia House of Delegates passes bill to amend HIV criminalisation law

Virginia General Assembly passes bill to modernize HIV laws

RICHMOND, Va. — The General Assembly passed a bill this week that lawmakers say will modernize Virginia’s current HIV laws.

Senate Bill 1138, introduced by Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also removes a law that prohibits the donation of blood and organs by people with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. A 21-17 vote along party lines pushed the bill out of the Senate earlier this month. The House of Delegates passed the bill Friday in a 56-44 vote.

The bill repeals a law that makes it a felony for HIV-positive people to sell or donate blood, body fluids, organs and tissues. Donors must be in compliance with the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act. This state legislation does not apply to national organizations such as the American Red Cross. The organization implements FDA guidelines that require men who have sex with men to defer from sexual intercourse for three months before donating blood.

The measure also removes HIV, AIDS, syphilis and hepatitis B from the list of infectious biological substances under the current infected sexual battery law, opting to use the language “sexually transmitted infection.” The crime is punishable by a Class 6 felony, which carries a punishment of no more than five years in prison or a $2,500 fine. In 2019 and 2020, three offenders were convicted of such crimes, according to data provided in the impact statement by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. The Senate voted to lower the penalty from a Class 6 felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Opponents of the bill spoke against reducing the penalty for such crimes. The House vote Friday included an amendment to keep the Class 6 felony punishment.

The bill adds language that HIV will not be included in the current statute as an infectious biological substance. It is a Class 5 felony to cause malicious injury by means of an infectious biological substance. The offense is punishable by five to 30 years in prison.

McClellan said current HIV laws put in place during the 1980s AIDS epidemic have proven ineffective from a public health perspective. She said they are counterproductive and were implemented years ago to receive federal funding.

February 6, 2021

Citing stigma and fear, Virginia Senate votes to reform HIV criminalization law

Deirdre Johnson first learned she had HIV when she was six months pregnant. She was shocked to learn that in Virginia, it was a crime for her to have consensual sex with someone without disclosing she had the virus.

“Virginia’s HIV criminalization law is rooted in stigma and discrimination,” Johnson said. “It targets people living with HIV and paints them — and people like me — as vectors of disease to be feared and criminalized.”

Johnson, who lives in Petersburg, takes medications so that she now is at no risk of transmitting the virus. Her son was born HIV-negative. She co-founded Ending Criminalization of HIV and Overincarceration in Virginia, and advocates for changing the state’s HIV criminalization laws.

The Virginia Senate passed legislation Friday that would decriminalize people having consensual sex without disclosing they have HIV, which advocates say will reduce stigma and improve public health. The bill, from Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-17, and heads to the House of Delegates for its consideration.

Virginia is one of 37 states that criminalizes exposing or transmitting HIV to another person. States adopted these laws during the panic in the 1990s about how to prevent the spread of the virus.

In particular, states acted in response to a 1997 case in New York that drew nationwide attention. Nushawn Williams knowingly infected at least 13 women and teenagers with HIV through unprotected sex. This prompted fear of people intentionally spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, although there’s no evidence that a significant number of people were ever intentionally trying to infect other people with HIV.

The statute is rarely used. Between 2019 and 2020, three people were convicted of felony infected sexual battery and misdemeanor sexual battery, according to the Virginia Sentencing Commission. The misdemeanor offense carries possible jail time of 12 months, and the felony up to five years.

Senators were concerned that repealing this law would prevent prosecuting someone for intentionally, maliciously infecting someone with the virus. The bill would reduce the penalty from a felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone to engage in “sexual behavior that poses a substantial risk of transmission” and transmits a sexually transmitted infection to someone.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said she’s had to be the one to deliver news to women that a person they were in a relationship with transmitted a disease to them.

“I cannot diminish in any way the consequences for someone who has intentionally infected a woman,” she said.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, 25,000 people live with HIV in the commonwealth.

Andre Leaphart pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense under this statute in 2017. He said part of the problem with the law is that it’s broadly written and can be used to prosecute people like him who had never intended to harm anyone. It doesn’t require transmission, and intent could be interpreted as the defendant not disclosing their HIV status.

After his experience, he advocates for improved HIV testing and outreach. He said the law can be a barrier to testing. World health groups have identified HIV criminalization laws as hurdles to effective treatment and prevention.

“This bill ensures Virginia code reflects current scientific understanding of HIV and promotes public health by alleviating the stigma and mistrust of health institutions,” Leaphart said.

A number of states in recent years have modernized their HIV criminalization laws. Changes include requiring intent to transmit, actual transmission or providing defenses for taking measures to prevent transmission.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said he appreciates the mindset in the 1990s that led to this law. Then, getting HIV was a death sentence. That’s no longer the case, so Deeds said it was worth reexamining the law now to reflect the current understanding of the virus.

“The stigma, fear and mistrust that this law perpetuates contributes to negative public health outcomes,” said Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia.

January 29, 2021

Good news from Equality Virginia:

Senate Bill 1138 to Modernize and Repeal Discriminatory HIV Laws in Virginia Receives Senate Judiciary Committee Approval

Current laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx communities and other people of color

RICHMOND, Va. (Jan. 28, 2021) – The Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1138 on Wednesday, a bill sponsored by State Senators Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) and Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) that would amend and repeal current HIV statutes that disproportionately impact people of color.

SB 1138 would create several updates to the Virginia Code limiting the scope of the law to prevent criminalization and eliminating additional punishments for people living with HIV when charged with a crime.

HIV criminalization refers to the use of laws and policies to target and punish people based on their HIV positive status. Virginia is one of 37 states with laws criminalizing the alleged potential exposure, non-disclosure, or potential transmission of HIV.

“These outdated, dangerous, and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of color,” said Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia. “To ensure an equitable state for Black and Brown individuals and to promote public health, it’s essential lawmakers pass SB 1138.”

The HIV epidemic remains a significant public health issue across the country and in Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Heath’s most recent data, approximately 25,000 people live with HIV in the commonwealth. Data highlights that communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people who use drugs, and sex workers are most likely to be impacted by HIV.

Despite only making up 19.5% of the state’s population, Black people represent 58% of persons living with HIV in Virginia. The rate of Black males living with HIV is 5.5 times higher than white males and the rate of Black females living with HIV is 15.1 times that of white females.

Meanwhile, the rate of Hispanic/Latino males living with HIV is 2.2 times higher than white males and the rate of Hispanic/Latina females living with HIV is 4.1 times that of white females.

Current state laws, some of which were originally enacted in the 1980s, do not reflect modern public health and scientific best practices, and disproportionately harm communities of color.

“Virginia’s current HIV laws are rooted in fear and racial biases,” said Deirdre Johnson, co-founder of ECHO VA coalition. “Criminalization increases stigma and harms marginalized communities. Data shows that these laws target and harm women of color, women who do sex work, and transgender women.”

Studies in other states highlight how HIV laws are enforced based on race and gender. A study by The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law of Georgia’s criminal justice system reported that Black men and women are significantly more likely to be arrested for HIV-related offenses than their white peers, and Black men are nearly twice as likely to be convicted than white men.

“It’s critical we pass SB 1183 as we continue the important work to make a more equitable justice system for all Virginians,” said Senator Locke. “HIV criminalization undermines public health and helps fuel the HIV epidemic in our state. I am committed to working with my General Assembly colleagues to ensure current laws are repealed and modernized to reflect modern science and public health strategies.”

“Living with HIV should not be a crime,” added Senator McClellan. “We know current laws deter testing and create additional barriers for vulnerable populations. HIV criminalization is a critical public health issue that lawmakers can help solve by passing SB 1138.”

Last November, HIV advocacy groups ECHO-VA and the Positive Women’s Network-USA testified about current HIV laws to Virginia’s Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law, a council charged with identifying and making recommendations to address laws that were intended to or could have the effect of promotion or enabling racial discrimination or inequities. The Commission was highly receptive to the testimony and agreed to include a review of the state’s HIV criminalization statute with a recommendation to establish a task force to examine the statute’s impact on racial and ethnic minorities in its 2020 report to the Governor.

“HIV isn’t a death sentence and it should never be a prison sentence,” said Kamaria Laffrey, with the Sero Project. “We know current laws are disproportionately enforced against Black individuals and disenfranchised communities. Passing SB 1138 is essential to stopping the inappropriate and unjust criminal prosecutions of people living with HIV.”

“We know the current laws are not effective from a public health perspective,” said Breanna Diaz with Positive Women’s Network-USA. “These discriminatory policies discourage people from seeking HIV testing and treatment. They create mistrust of, and alienation from, public health institutions and put people living with HIV at heightened risk of violence from intimate partners.”

WATCH! From Moment to Movement: HIV Justice Live! Ep 3 – Oslo Declaration 9th Anniversary

From Moment to Movement: HIV Justice Live! celebrates the Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation

The 3rd episode of HIV Justice Live! aired on Wednesday, February 17, to celebrate nine years since the publication of the historic Oslo Declaration on HIV Criminalisation. Hosted by HIV Justice Network’s Edwin J Bernard, the show featured some of the advocates who were behind the Oslo Declaration.

Kim Fangen, co-organiser of the side-meeting that finalised the Oslo Declaration, and who was the only person openly living with HIV on the Norwegian Law Commission, revealed that the Declaration was initially conceived as an advocacy tool to influence policy discussions in Norway as well as neighbouring Nordic countries.

Patrick Eba, now UNAIDS Country Director in the Central African Republic, explained that the reason the meeting took place in Oslo was because the Norwegian Government had supported UNAIDS to produce detailed guidance on how countries should deal with the overly broad use of the criminal law to HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, by examining scientific, medical and legal issues.

Former ARASA ED, Michaela Clayton, now a member of HJN’s Supervisory Board, said the Oslo Declaration was the first time there was a coming together of activists from both the global north and south around HIV criminalisation. She noted that although there had been some work done regionally and in-country, this was the first global solidarity statement around HIV criminalisation.

Ralf Jürgens, now Senior Coordinator of Human Rights at The Global Fund, who attended the Oslo meeting in an advisory capacity, spoke about his relief and delight that the work that he and others had done as part of the ‘first-wave’ of advocacy against HIV criminalisation was now being undertaken by the HIV Justice Network. Jürgens currently oversees the innovative Global Fund initiative, Breaking Down Barriers, which supports 20 countries to remove human rights-related barriers to health services for HIV, TB malaria, and COVID-19. He said the Global Fund has invested resources to fight laws and policies and discrimination overall and ensure access to justice. He added that the HIV Justice Worldwide movement now plays an “incredibly important” part in this work by providing global leadership and a wide range of advocacy resources.

There was a surprise appearance by Susan Timberlake, who was UNAIDS’ Senior Human Rights Advisor when the Oslo meetings took place. She recognised the Oslo Declaration as the moment that the global movement around HIV criminalisation began. Susan recalled the main meeting fell on Valentine’s Day and participants made posters with “make love, not criminal laws” messaging.

Our regular Mind the Gap segment featured Ellie Ballan, a member of our Global Advisory Panel, who is based in Lebanon. He was interviewed by Julian Hows, HJN’s Partnerships and Governance Co-ordinator.

The Oslo Declaration, has so far, garnered over 1750 signatories from more than 115 countries and been translated into nine different languages, the most recent being Latvian and Turkish. It was also the template for the Mexican Declaration in 2017.  Pozitif Dayanışma, an HIV organisation based in Turkey recently translated the Declaration into Turkish, as well as producing an accompanying info-graphic and social media pack.

Further, the Oslo Declaration has been referred to as key guidance on HIV criminalisation from global organisations such as UNAIDS, Amnesty International, and PEPFAR/USAID, cited in several peer-reviewed journals and used as a strategic planning and advocacy tool all over the world. The Declaration has also been featured in high-profile media, such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and POZ magazine.

US: Bipartisan effort to modernize Georgia’s HIV laws

Republican lawmaker wants to modernize Georgia’s HIV laws

A Republican state lawmaker leads a bipartisan effort to modernize the state’s HIV laws, which critics say aren’t rooted in science and stigmatize people living with HIV.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, a Republican from Rome, introduced Senate Bill 164 on Feb. 11. The measure would require prosecutors to show a person charged with exposing someone to HIV through sex had an “intent to transmit HIV” and posed a “significant risk of transmission” based on current science.

Current Georgia law makes it a crime for people living with HIV to have sex or donate blood without disclosing their status, regardless of whether they intend to transmit HIV or pose any risk. It’s a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. State law also criminalizes spitting at or using bodily fluids on law enforcement or corrections officers by a person living with HIV, an offense that can carry up to 20 years in prison.

Hufstetler’s bill removes criminal penalties for people living with HIV who share needles, donate blood or spit at or use bodily fluids on police and corrections officers. The proposal also changes state law to refer to people “living with HIV” instead of “an HIV infected person.”

HIV advocates and LGBTQ activists applaud the bill. They began working to change the state’s HIV criminalization laws as early as 2013.

“It is absolutely encouraging,” said Eric Paulk, deputy director of Georgia Equality. “It shows that the years of advocating around this issue are starting to pay off. Folks under the Gold Dome are understanding that these laws are born out of an era and time when evidence-based knowledge about HIV risk and transmission and treatment therapy were extremely limited. This is a huge move in the right direction.”

Georgia is one of some three-dozen states that criminalize a lack of HIV disclosure, whether or not the specific act actually exposed the sex partner to HIV. The legislation keeps intentional HIV exposure as a felony, but it lowers the maximum prison sentence from 10 years to five.

“Of the potential seven charges that someone living with HIV could face under the current statute, this would eliminate five of them,” Paulk said. “There will be a shift in the concept of exposure to intent to transmit, which would allow for significant improvement over what we currently have.”

Last year, a House committee approved similar HIV modernization legislation. That measure – House Bill 719 from Rep. Deborah Silcox, a Sandy Springs Republican – failed to advance during a legislative session disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Paulk said the continued bipartisan support for efforts to decriminalize HIV is encouraging.

“Folks are understanding that these laws are bad and harmful and that they don’t do the things they are intended to do, which is lower the number of transmissions that are happening,” he said.

Hufstetler’s bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Co-sponsors include Sen. Kay Kilpatrick, a Republican from Marietta, and Sens. Nan Orrock and Gloria Butler, both Democrats from Atlanta.

In 2019, Kilpatrick was the Senate sponsor of legislation creating a syringe services program to allow people who inject drugs to exchange used needles for clean ones. Such programs reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Gov. Brian Kemp signed that measure – House Bill 217 – into law.

US: Virginia’s bill to reform the state’s infected sexual battery law will also broaden its scope to include all STIs

Lawmakers weigh how far to go in changing a decades-old law criminalizing HIV

Thirty years ago, HIV was largely considered to be a death sentence.

At a time when the disease was little-understood, even within the health care community,  Virginia joined dozens of states in passing laws that criminalized “infected sexual battery” — making it a felony for someone living with HIV, syphilis or Hepatitis B to engage in sexual activity “with the intent to transmit the infection to another person.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said Virginia, like many states, was driven by the federal government. In 1990, national lawmakers passed the Ryan White CARE Act, which established federal funding for HIV services and treatment. But to receive the funding, states were required to create a legal mechanism to prosecute people who knowingly exposed others to HIV.

Virginia passed its own statute in 1997, making infected sexual battery a Class 6 felony and nondisclosure — or having sex with someone without revealing your status — a Class 1 misdemeanor. Twenty-four years later, McClellan has joined with Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, in an effort to modernize the law.

Finding consensus with other legislators, though, has been a challenge.Their bill to reform the state’s infected sexual battery law passed the Senate late on Friday in a 21-17 vote, with Republicans voting unanimously against the bill. But to gain support among Democrats, McClellan also had to offer a late floor amendment that revised the code section rather than fully repealing it.

“It’s clear to us that a lot of members of the Senate aren’t comfortable completely eliminating that crime,” she said in an interview on Friday morning. The substitute reduces the potential charge for infected sexual battery from a Class 6 felony to a Class 1 misdemeanor. At the same time, it also broadens the scope of the law, removing its specific focus on HIV, syphilis, and Hepatitis B.

The legislation would now make it a potential misdemeanor if a Virginian diagnosed with any sexually transmitted infection “engages in sexual behavior that poses a substantial risk of transmission” with the intent of transmitting the disease. And unlike the current code, it would require actual transmission of the disease in order to prosecute.

Expanding the law to include all STIs might seem counterintuitive for a bill aimed at decriminalizing HIV. But the intent of the substitute was to raise the burden of prosecution, making it less likely that the law will be used, said Breanna Diaz, the policy director for the Positive Women’s Network, anational advocacy group for women and transgender people living with HIV. The group is lobbying to repeal or modernize HIV criminalization laws in more than 30 states. Diaz, who drafted the substitute, said it’s similar to a 2017 bill passed in California.

Currently, Virginia code only criminalizes transmission of HIV and two other previously life-threatening infections — a focus that advocates say only furthers the stigma for Virginians diagnosed with the virus. But it also requires little burden of proof for people who press charges.

Virginia’s infected sexual battery statute doesn’t require that the disease was actually transmitted. It also criminalizes sexual activity regardless of whether a person living with HIV used protection, such as condoms, or medication that made their risk of transmitting the virus virtually nonexistent.

“What it really does is criminalize just knowing your status and engaging in sexual activity even if it poses low-to-no risk of infection,” Diaz said. The substitute bill would introduce several measures to raise the burden of prosecution.

First, anyone charged under the statute would need to have been diagnosed with an STI prior to sexual contact (some common infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea don’t always cause symptoms and can be transmitted unknowingly). It would also require that the person engaged in activity that posed “a substantial risk of transmission,” such as having sex without protection.

Most importantly, there would have to be proof that the infection was actually transmitted to a partner.

“It is our core belief that criminalization will never be the answer to public health,” Diaz said. “But we wanted to build in elements that would raise the burden of prosecution. And we’re hoping with the prosecutorial burden being so high now, this statute will not be used too often.”

Infected sexual battery charges are already relatively rare. In the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, only three Virginians were convicted of a felony under the law, according to data from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. Another seven were convicted of a misdemeanor for not disclosing their status (McClellan’s substitute would completely repeal that section of the code).

And while the original intent was to completely repeal Virginia’s infected sexual battery law, McClellan described the amended bill as a compromise that would make it easier to pass the General Assembly. Throughout the committee process, there was clear bipartisan hesitancy to eliminate a law that makes it a crime to intentionally infect someone with HIV.

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why we would want to repeal that,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, during a hearing last month.

“The science has dramatically improved the diagnosis for HIV and it makes sense for us to look at changes in the law,” added Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. “But I agree with Sen. Obenshain — if someone intentionally infects someone else, there ought to be some criminal penalty.”

Like many of the criminal justice initiatives moving through the state’s General Assembly, inequity is another major argument against the bill. In Virginia, 56.7 percent of people living with HIV are Black, according to data from Emory University (Black Virginians make up just 19.1 percent of the state’s population overall). Black and Latino men are 5.5 and 2.2 times more likely, respectively, to be living with an HIV diagnosis than White men, while Black and Latino women are 15.1 and 4.1 times more likely to be living with a diagnosis than their White counterparts.

The disease also has a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ community. As a result, advocates say HIV criminalization laws, in Virginia and across the country, are most frequently applied against already marginalized groups with existing mistrust of the health care system.

“Folks charged under these laws are already over-criminalized, over-policed and over-surveilled,” Diaz said. And with few barriers to pressing charges under Virginia’s current statute, proving “intent” to transmit the disease — or a claim of nondisclosure — can be difficult to demonstrate in court.

But stories about the charges often end up in the news, which can out people living with HIV even if they’re not founded. Deirdre Johnson and Cedric Pulliam, co-founders of the decriminalization advocacy group ECHO Virginia, said one of their members chose to plead guilty after a partner accused him of nondisclosure after an argument.

“Next thing you know, the police are knocking at his door and he’s getting arrested,” Johnson said. The member had never been involved with the criminal justice system and took a plea deal. As a result, he lost his social work license and still has to disclose felony charges on job applications.

For advocates, it’s a prime example of how the potential repercussions of the law — and the stigma — make it less likely that people will seek out help for HIV.

“When people are afraid they’ll be putting a target on their back for criminal prosecution, they don’t get tested and they don’t get treated,” McClellan said.

The bill would also repeal a section of state code that requires Virginians convicted of prostitution or intravenous drug use to be tested for HIV, instead making it an option. And it would repeal the state’s current ban against patients with HIV donating organs, with notice and consent, in certain circumstances — putting Virginia in line with federal guidance.

But even the amended bill didn’t convince some senators that it’s time to repeal the law. Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico — a practicing OB-GYN — said during a floor debate that diagnosing women with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections was “one of the hardest conversations” she ever had to have.

“And I wish I could support this bill, but I cannot diminish in any way the consequences for a woman who has been intentionally infected,” she said before the vote. The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police also opposes the legislation.

“We haven’t followed this bill that closely, and don’t understand why it was introduced,” Executive Director Dana Schrad wrote in an email on Tuesday. “We have had cases in which a person knowingly and intentionally infected someone else through a sexual assault.”

Both Johnson and Pulliam, though, said it would make prosecuting the law much more difficult by requiring that anyone charged with the crime had actually transmitted the virus. For Johnson, a woman living with HIV, it also acknowledges the advances in treatment since 1997.

With current therapies, patients are now capable of leading long, healthy lives. Antiretroviral drugs can also reduce a patient’s viral load to the point where it’s undetectable — leaving “effectively no risk” of transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative sexual partner, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“There is zero risk of me transmitting HIV to anyone,” she said. “We just really wanted our laws to be in alignment with science.”

Mexico: Deputy proposes prison sentence for “stealthing” that results in STI or pregnancy

MC seeks prison for whoever removes a condom without consent

The deputy of the Citizen Movement, Juan Martín Espinoza Cárdenas, proposed to punish from three to eight years in prison and a fine of 80 days to those who do not use or stop using a condom during sexual intercourse without consent and results in a venereal disease or unwanted pregnancy.

The initiative that adds a fourth paragraph to the Article 199 Bis of the Federal Criminal Code, assigned to the Justice Commission, seeks to regulate the practice known as “stealthing”.

Mention that the term Stealthing means stealthily or secretly, and it is a practice that originated in the United States in which the right of men to spread “their seed” is idealized, which results in unwanted pregnancies and, worse, sexually transmitted infections. Human Papilloma (HPV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

« This type of practices that is increasing in the world, are extremely dangerous, since they can not only cause unwanted pregnancies, but also sexually transmitted diseases that endanger the health and lives of citizens », adds the initiative.

It mentions that according to the National Institute of Women between 1983 and 2019 there were 210,104 new cases of people with HIV-AIDS, of which the 84.9 percent are men and 15.1 percent women. In 2018 alone, 13,137 new cases of HIV-AIDS were diagnosed.

« Our country is not the exception, since sexually transmitted diseases or infections have been increasing, » he emphasizes.

Refers that the organization Adis Healthcare Foundation points out that in Mexico on average only six out of ten Mexicans use a condom during sexual intercourse.

While the National Center for the Prevention and Control of HIV-AIDS (CENSIDA) cites that 41 people are infected with HIV every day. Coupled with that Mexico ranks first worldwide in unwanted pregnancies in adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age.

It highlights that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), every day more than one million people in the world contract some type of sexually transmitted infection, and estimates that in 2016 there were approximately 376 million new infections divided into: chlamydia (127 million), gonorrhea (87 million), syphilis (6.3 million) and trichomoniasis (156 million).

Furthermore, the WHO reports that there are about 500 million people who have the Herpes Simplex Virus (VPS) and more than 300 million women who are infected by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is the leading cause of cervical cancer, he points out.


Diputado de MC busca prisión para quien se quite condón sin consentimiento de la pareja

Juan Martín Espinoza Cárdenas propuso sancionar también con 80 días de multa, a quien deje de utilizar preservativo durante las relaciones sexuales.

El diputado de Movimiento Ciudadano, Juan Martín Espinoza Cárdenas, propuso sancionar de tres a ocho años de prisión y 80 días de multa, a quien no utilice o deje de utilizar preservativo durante las relaciones sexuales sin consentimiento y dé como resultado una enfermedad venérea o embarazo no deseado.

La iniciativa que adiciona un párrafo cuarto al artículo 199 Bis del Código Penal Federal, turnada a la Comisión de Justicia, busca regular la práctica conocida como “stealthing”. Menciona que el término “stealthing” significa sigiloso o secretamente, y es una práctica que se originó en Estados Unidos en la que se idealiza el derecho de los hombres a propagar “su semilla” que trae como consecuencias embarazos no deseados y, peor aún, infecciones de transmisión sexual, Virus de Papiloma Humano (VPH) y Virus de Inmunodeficiencia Humana (VIH). 

“Este tipo de prácticas que va en aumento en el mundo, son sumamente peligrosas, ya que no solamente pueden provocar embarazos no deseados, sino enfermedades de transmisión sexual que ponen en peligro la salud y la vida de las y los ciudadanos”, añade la iniciativa.

 “Nuestro país no es la excepción, ya que han ido en aumento las enfermedades o infecciones de transmisión sexual”, subraya. Refiere que la organización Adis Healthcare Foundation señala que en México en promedio sólo seis de cada diez mexicanos utilizan el condón durante las relaciones sexuales.

Mientras que el Centro Nacional para la Prevención y Control del VIH-Sida(CENSIDA) cita que cada día se infectan 41 personas de VIH. Aunado a que México ocupa el primer lugar a nivel mundial en embarazos no deseados en adolescentes de entre 15 y 19 años.

Destaca que de acuerdo con la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS), cada día más de un millón de personas en el mundo contraen algún tipo de infección de transmisión sexual, y estima que en 2016 hubo aproximadamente 376 millones de nuevas infecciones divididas en: clamidiasis (127 millones), gonorrea (87 millones), sífilis (6.3 millones) y tricomoniasis (156 millones).

Además, la OMS reporta que existen alrededor de 500 millones de personas que padecen el Virus del Herpes Simple (VPS) y más de 300 millones de mujeres que están infectadas por el Virus de Papiloma Humano (VPH) que es la primera causa de cáncer cervicouterino, puntualiza.​


Zimbabwe: Criminal law amendment increases fines for “deliberate transmission of HIV”, classified at highest level of offences

Lockdown fines revised upwards

Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief

Members of the public who violate lockdown regulations now risk paying a spot fine of $5 000 while those found guilty of deliberately transmitting HIV can pay up to $1,6 million.

Fines have been reviewed upwards with immediate effect.

The new fine schedule is contained in Statutory Instrument (SI) 25 of 2021 issued on Monday by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Level 14 offences, the highest level of offences, now attract a fine of $1,6 million up from $800 000 and include crimes such as concealing treason, deliberately transmitting HIV, robbery which is not committed in aggravating circumstances.

“It is hereby notified that the minister has, in terms of section 280 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 made the following notice.

This notice may be cited as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) (Standard Scale of Fines) Notice 2021,” the SI read.

“The First Schedule to the Codification and Reform Act Chapter 9:23 is repealed and substituted by the following. Level 1-ZWL$1 000,
level 2- ZWL$2 000, level 3- ZWL$5 000 level 4- ZWL$20 000, level 5- ZWL$30 000, level 6- ZWL$60 000 and level 7- ZWL$120 00.”

“Levels eight to fourteen shall attract the following fines respectively ZWL$200 000, ZWL$240 000 ZWL$280 000, ZWL$400 000, ZWL$800 000, ZWL$1 200 000 and ZWL$1 600 000. The criminal law codification and reform Standard scale of fines notice 2020 published Statutory Instrument 272 of 2020 is repealed.”

Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza confirmed the new fines.

“Yes, those are the new fine like level 14 which is the highest. But the rightful person to comment on this is the Chief Magistrate Mr Munamato Mutevedzi who deals with these offences every day,” she said.

Mr Mutevedzi could not be reached immediately.

Prominent Gweru Lawyer Mr Esau Mandipa said the new fines were justified in the light of the surge in armed robbery cases among others.
He said at the same time, there was need to punish Covid-19 lockdown offenders to stop the spread of the virus.
“What this means is that both offences minor and serious in terms of the code now attract heavier penalties in forms of fines. My advice to fellow citizens is to comply with the law.

“Crimes like armed robbery lead to unnecessary loss of life and Covid-19 is causing the death of many people.

“So it is just common cause that we behave and follow the laid down rules and regulations that are aimed at protecting us,” said Mr Mandipa.


Kyrgyzstan: Amnesty law rules out release of prisoners living with HIV as not applying to “diseases that pose a danger to others”

HIV/AIDS prisoners are discriminated and not amnestied

Human rights defenders are trying to achieve the return of HIV / AIDS to the list of diseases that are the basis for presenting convicts with release from serving their sentences.

According to the public foundation “Positive dialogue”, HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis became the cause of death of prisoners in 78 % of cases in 2018. In 2019, statistics was improved slightly and the death rate of convicts from these diseases was decreased to 59 % of the total number of deaths.

In May 2020, the Parliament of the republic adopted the amnesty law in connection with the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and the 10th anniversary of the people’s April revolution in 2010. However, according to human rights activists, according to this normative act, not a single prisoner with a diagnosis of AIDS was released from prison. This possibility was ruled out by one of the articles of the amnesty law, which states that its application doesn’t apply to convicts suffering from diseases that pose a danger to others. For example, infectious and venereal diseases.

According to the law, amnesty for such persons is applied only after completion of the course of treatment. But, as human rights activists note, although HIV / AIDS is classified as an infectious disease, it doesn’t have a strictly defined course of treatment. Antiretroviral therapy, as a combination of three medicines that suppresses the HIV virus to the maximum and contains the progression of the disease, is prescribed for life.

“Restrictions on the use of amnesty for treatable diseases are not effective for HIV because HIV is not treatable and is not randomly transmitted. Such restrictions for the non-application of amnesty cannot be called objective and reasonable,” the public foundation “Positive dialogue” believes.

In August 2020, the representatives of the foundation appealed to the State Penitentiary Service of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republican AIDS Center with a proposal to consider the issue of including HIV / AIDS in the list of diseases that are the basis for release for prisoners from serving sentences, as well as to include it in the list of diagnoses that prevent detention, and initiate the procedure for making additions to the specified decrees of the government of the Kyrgyz Republic.

“Such a measure will reduce mortality from HIV and HIV-associated diseases, improve the treatment of sick convicts and will be a proof of the humanistic principles of the penal legislation,” the appeal says.

Human rights activists emphasize that convicts living with HIV are under constant pressure from discrimination and inequality: they cannot be exempted from serving their sentences due to illness and cannot be amnestied by law simply because of their status.

In response, the State Service for the Execution of Punishments reported that in 2017, as part of the judicial and legal reform initiated by the Republican AIDS Center, clinical stage 4 of HIV infection was excluded from the list of diseases that are grounds for release, since concomitant diseases occurring at this stage of infection, were already on the list. At the same time, the working group, that made such a decision, included, on an equal basis with other government agencies, the Republican AIDS Center, which is a specialized national body for the development of measures to prevent HIV / AIDS.

The response of the Republican Center to the request of human rights activists was shocking. It says that the department considers it “inappropriate to include a separate line of people living with HIV in the above lists of diseases”.

“The penitentiary system of the republic has access to testing, treatment with the provision of necessary medicines for HIV treatment, departmental medical institutions for prisoners with the necessary level of conditions for therapy. AIDS service specialists conduct systematic examinations and consultations of patients with serious conditions, subject to their notification”, assured in the Center.

At the same time, representatives of the public foundation “Positive dialogue” have information that during the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, convicts with AIDS / HIV received practically no appropriate medical and psychological assistance equivalent to that provided to those who wasn’t in places of imprisonment.

Also, the Republican AIDS Center believes that prisoners don’t die from HIV in prisons, but from diseases associated with this infection.

In addition, the department notes that according to the electronic tracking system for HIV cases since the implementation of the Laws of the Kyrgyz Republic № 53 “On amnesty in connection with the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and 10 anniversary of the people’s April revolution in 2010” (dated May 8, 2020) and № 34 “On probation” (dated February 24, 2017), the number of convicts with HIV was decreased by 2 times. This, in the opinion of the relevant national body for the fight against AIDS, is a confirmation of the effectiveness of these legal acts.

Meanwhile, the fact of the absence of real statistics on deaths of prisoners from AIDS was confirmed in an interview with one of the local media by the deputy director of the Republican AIDS Center Aybek Bekbolotov. In particular, he told the reporters the following, “We cannot regulate the statistics, because many, when they take a death certificate, don’t want it to be written ‘HIV infection’. Many pass as dead from other diseases. There is a difference between us and the National Statistical Committee.”

“The correspondence with the administration of a medical institution shows how the personal opinion of one person becomes decisive for the fate of many people. Not people, not patients, but the state interests, the interests of the department, statistics – this, I think, is the main pattern – is the scheme of actions of state officials. And this despite the fact that the considerable funds from international donors were allocated for education and material support of the staff of the Republican AIDS Center. How can we assess the activities of the Republican AIDS Center after that?” the lawyer of the Coalition against Torture, Arsen Ambaryan, is indignant.