Health Policy, Sexual Health, Social Determinants , , , , , , ,

Changes to HIV Criminalization Laws in NC

According to a report updated in August 2017, 34 states in the US had HIV criminalization laws still on the books, written at least twenty years ago at the height of the AIDS epidemic [1]. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 25 states in the US have “laws that criminalize behaviors that carry a low or negligible risk of HIV transmission” [2]. Most of these laws require disclosure of HIV status for those living with HIV, and in some states, failure to disclose or follow other laws could result in a felony.

There are various examples of these laws being put to work, including a man living with HIV being convicted of a felony and sentenced for 35 years for spitting on a police officer because his saliva was considered a deadly weapon though HIV transmission doesn’t occur through saliva [3].

In North Carolina, HIV criminalization laws are contained in the health code, and the North Carolina Commission for Public Health recently voted to update the laws in order to better reflect our current understanding of HIV and the current methods available for HIV treatment and prevention [4].

According to the previous law, any individual living with HIV was required to disclose their HIV status to any sexual partners and to use a condom during sex, and anyone living with HIV was unable to donate organs. With the changes to the law, an HIV positive individual who is virally suppressed for at least 6 months does not have to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners or use a condom during sex, and even if they aren’t virally suppressed, if their partner is taking PrEP, they don’t have to use a condom. Also, an individual living with HIV doesn’t have to use a condom when having sex with another individual living with HIV, and individuals living with HIV can donate organs to other individuals living with HIV [5]

This is an exciting step forward for North Carolina that will hopefully make changes for HIV stigma while also representing current options for HIV treatment and prevention. These changes also recognize that HIV is an ongoing issue, especially with high rates of new diagnoses of HIV in the South.

Nonetheless, some activists are still worried that this is only a step forward for those who are already at an advantage. Many individuals are still unable to access healthcare and the medical system for various reasons, limiting their access to PrEP for HIV treatment to attain viral suppression. Only 50% of individuals living with HIV stay in care. Further, Black and Latinx individuals still receive worse care and have less access to care. This results in a continued disparity. Though the changes to these laws are a step forward in creating evidence-based laws and hopefully decreasing stigma and unjust prosecution, there are still significant barriers for individuals seeking HIV treatment and prevention care [6].

“Chart: State-by-State Criminal Laws Used to Prosecute People with HIV, Center for HIV Law and Policy (2017).” The Center for HIV Law and Policy, 1 Aug. 2017, www.hivlawandpolicy.org/resources/chart-state-state-criminal-laws-used-prosecute-people-hiv-center-hiv-law-and-policy-2012

Jackson, Hope. “A Look At HIV Criminalization Bills Across The Country.” Human Rights Campaign, 26 Feb. 2018, www.hrc.org/blog/a-look-at-hiv-criminalization-bills-across-the-country.

Kovach, Gretel C. “Prison for Man With H.I.V. Who Spit on a Police Officer.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 May 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/05/16/us/16spit.html.

Adeleke, Christina. “Choose Science over Fear.” QNotes, 24 Feb. 2018, goqnotes.com/58326/choose-science-over-fear/.

“HIV Criminalization Laws Change in North Carolina.” WNCAP, 20 Feb. 2018, wncap.org/2018/02/20/hiv-criminalization-laws-change-north-carolina/

Salzman, Sony. “Updated HIV Laws May Only Protect the Privileged.” Tonic, 20 Mar. 2018, tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/wj7e9z/updated-hiv-laws-may-only-protect-privileged.

  • Crystal

    Thanks for the post. I agree this may help reduce stigma. It’s also exciting that we’ve had enough advances in HIV research that people actually can be virally suppressed for 6 months or more.

  • Josh Boegner

    Thank you for the critical analysis of the state of HIV Criminalization laws in North Carolina. I really appreciate the way that you acknowledge that well the updates in the law are a step in the right direction, they still stigmatize HIV and fail to recognize the intersection of identities that lead to differences in care outcomes.