Criminalization of HIV - A brief story in a small town
Seropositive Editor of the Web Site Note: While it may seem that we are pointing to the backyard of others, criminalization of HIV (Wrong term, because it criminalizes the person with HIV is in your right to privacy) is the theme here in Brazil, where currents of the extreme right or extreme religious discrimination, who yearn for it and struggle, hallways more Dark Congress, trying to bribe someone to get a kind of moral genocide.
when it comes to mapping the US HIV / AIDS epidemic, Iowa probably is not the first state that comes to mind. At 2010, with only 1.722 diagnosed cases, Iowa had one of the lowest per-capita prevalence rates. Only 68 per 100.000 people in the country. However, in recent years, the state whose motto promises to "prize" and "maintain" the freedoms and rights of its citizens, has become an unlikely epicenter for HIV activism to a fundamental issue: the criminalization of people living with HIV.
Criminalization of HIV is nothing new, of course. Since 1980, over 30 states passed laws to punish people who fail to disclose their HIV status before having sex, intravenous needle sharing, or donating blood or organs. In some cases, people have even been prosecuted for spitting on others, even though experts say that saliva can not transmit HIV.
Last year, an investigation by Pro-Publica, a website of investigative journalism nonprofit, found that prosecutors in states 19 won convictions or guilty pleas in at least 541 cases of HIV exposure since 2003. Advocates have criticized these laws saying they unfairly highlight HIV for prosecution and more severe and undermine public health goals punishments for further stigmatize the virus.
While other states, such as Georgia, Ohio and Missouri are aggressive in these cases, the rise in Iowa as a battleground on the criminalization of HIV is due, in large part, by the case of Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive man from Iowa who was arrested in 2008, after a one-night stand. Him guilty of the charge known as "Criminal HIV Transmission" is declared, even though he was not detectable, used condoms and did not transmit the virus. However, a judge ordered the maximum sentence was the 25 years in state prison. Therefore, the more severe sentence called the attention to the case Rhoades.
Strub, himself a native of Iowa, is currently a full-time executive director of the Sero Project, a non-profit organization that fights against stigma and discrimination with a focus on criminalizing HIV. He quickly introduced Rhoades to lawyers who would eventually launch a number of appeals and draw attention across the country. But cases in Iowa were still piling up, first with Rhoades, then with Donald Bogardus, another HIV-positive man from Iowa, who was arrested under the same charge, this time on 2009. It was when Tami Haught, a mutual friend and local activist, became involved.
Haught, who has been diagnosed with HIV in 1993, has been advocating for people with HIV since she helped launch community advocates for HIV and hepatitis in Iowa (current) on 2005 after the arrests of Bogardus Rhoades. Haught has become a key figure in the local movement to end this criminalization.
At 2013, along with Senator Matt McCoy; its legislative council, Christian Zenti; and Cathy Engel, a Democratic research analyst in the judiciary with the Senate committee, CADEIA advocated a bill to "modernize" the Criminal Transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Law State. The new law, known as the 2297 Senate Archives, has proposed a layered sentence structure that has consigned criminals, intends to expose their partners to HIV and if their partners contract the virus; the law also included a "safe haven" - provision for people who use condoms and are following a doctor's treatment plan, and eliminated the requirement, part of the old law, that guilty parties should register as sex offenders. The latter provision was retroactive, which meant people convicted under the old law, such as Rhoades and Bogardus, would no longer be considered sex offenders.
"When I started, I thought I was doing it because I knew Nick, and Donald, and I wanted to help them," says Haught. But, as it turns out, the cause was more personal than even she realized.
In 1994 shortly after Haught married, her husband was hospitalized after a mental breakdown. "After he was released from the hospital, he was afraid that my family would convince me to give complaint against him since he contracted HIV from him," she says. "So it was the fear of this law that caused him to have a mental breakdown."
It was only when visiting a friend last year at the same hospital, two decades later, there was a connection. "I was walking down the hall and it was then that he truly realized how personal it was for me," says Haught.
While SF 2297 relied on the support of local lawyers and the Iowa Department of Public Health. Several county prosecutors opposed the bill, arguing that it would be almost impossible to prove whether a defendant intends to transmit the virus. National defense groups had concerns as well. Lambda Legal, who was representing Rhoades as his appeal, worked the way up to the state Supreme Court, criticized the provision of the new law that essentially requires people with HIV to use a condom, even if they are in treatment and undetectable. And the HIV Law and Policy Center, which also campaigns against the criminalization of HIV, opposed the bill to create new criminal offenses to intentionally expose people to other diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and meningococcal disease .
But these criticisms do not make the bill unfeasible. In May of this year, after months of meetings with legislators and a few hours before the State Congress session, bill proponents won a last-minute victory when legislators unanimously approved SF 2297. A month later, at a signing ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol, Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill and posed for photos with Rhoades and Bogardus.
Graphics for a media campaign soon about the criminalization of HIV
At the same time, the Sero Project had been busy, targeting plans to organize HIV, a first national meeting dedicated to the topic of HIV criminalization. The four-day meeting, which took place at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, a few days later Branstad signed the SF 2297 in law that drew more than 170 people from 27 states to present on criminalization, network, and develop plans advocacy efforts in their home states. In a surprise event, McCoy, the senator who helped sponsor Iowa's new law, showed up at the front desk with a pair of pliers to remove anklets from Rhoades and Bogardus, which they were forced to use under the old state law.
"I think everyone returned to their energized, ready to go to states, to build the network in their community," says Haught. "They came out with a plan. They left knowing that the change had happened and that each person can make a difference, you just have to start doing that. "
Just two weeks later, the State Supreme Court delivered more good news. In a decision from 6 to 1, the highest court in the state voted to overturn Rhoades' conviction because prosecutors had failed to prove a "factual basis" for the plea, including whether the transmission was likely to occur and an undetectable viral load Rhoades.
Scott Schoettes, who represented Rhoades during the appeals and serves as national director of Lambda Legal's HIV Project, says that the decision to Iowa could help change the legal landscape in other states, since it is the first to say that the transmission should be "reasonable", not only theoretically possible.
But Rhoades is not out of danger yet. His case has been deferred to a lower court, where prosecutors may try to take Rhoades to trial, negotiate a new plea or reject the allegations. Tom Ferguson, Black Hawk County attorney, said that his office plans to do. For other people of Iowa sentenced under the old law the court records show that there were more than 20 convictions in the state since it was enacted in 1998, advocates are working to restore their rights under the new law.
"Fortunately, every Iowan (person from Iowa) who was accused by 709C has already been removed from the registry of sex offenders," says Haught. "There are two other people who are still in jail based solely on the old status, the 709C, and we are trying to help them get out of jail, or at least have a parole board."
As for Bogardus, he is still going to have a criminal conviction on his record, the state's record-keeping of sex offenders allowed him to resume his 23 career as a certified nursing assistant.
Since the conference, federal authorities have also weighed. In July, the US Department of Justice issued new guidelines urging states "to eliminate the specific criminal sanctions for HIV," except in cases of sexual assault or clear intent to transmit the virus. In addition, during 20 th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, the US ambassador to Australia John Berry reported the existence of laws of exposure to HIV.
"While the United States still have laws criminalizing HIV status, we are working to do better and to rectify our mistakes," says Berry. "We believe that the actions of more productive public policy that we can take is to remove outdated laws criminalizing the books."
Graphics for a media campaign soon about the criminalization of HIV
The Sero Project praised Berry's statements. "The ambassador's unequivocal statement that the criminalization of HIV is an injustice and fundamental impediment to ending the epidemic is of enormous importance," the group says. "Reforming the criminalization of HIV is becoming a burning test for human rights around the world, and we look forward to further progress in the coming months and years ahead."
Lawyers like Strub and Haught are trying to make progress a reality. They have begun laying the groundwork for a follow-up conference next year, and Haught became a coordinator with advocates from other states, offering guidance and using the history of Iowa as a framework for anti-criminalization campaigns from other jurisdictions.
"There is still a lot of work to be done and a lot more people need to be empowered and reached," says Haught. "The only way we can stop the epidemic is to empower people living with HIV to fight for our rights, to defend, to educate and not to be ashamed."
Search: HIV is not a Crime, Sero Project, Sean Strub, Grinnell College, Iowa, Nick Rhoades, Donald Bogardus, AIDS 2014
Criminalization of HIV - A brief story in a small town.
Translation: Karin Gobitta-Földes