God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

18.09.2009 Criminal HIV?

“Nick Rhoades, an Iowa man sentenced May 8 to 25 years in prison for failing to disclose his HIV status to a male sexual partner, had his sentence reduced to five years of probation without jail time in a September 11 reconsideration hearing, The Iowa Independent reports.”

It is indeed an interesting question on whether disclosure of a HIV status can or should always be judged by legal means. In the existing climate of stigmatization and discrimination it is very unlikely that all people infected will be willing or able to disclose before being sexually active with somebody else. Punishment for non-disclosure, often even if no infection took place is growing in the legal systems of nations and I tend to disagree.
I would argue that the onus lies on both parties to protect and if I want to engage in sexual activities where the exchange of body fluids is likely, I have to treat every unknown and maybe even every known person as if he/she is carrier of the virus.  It always takes two to dance one says – and this applies also to such cases like the one above.
I personally don’t think that the tool of the criminal code is a very good tool to prevent infections; I think it will rather make it more unlikely that people get tested because at least they could argue then, that they did not know at all.
I see with concern that more and more also African countries develop laws in that regard, even punishing people when they did not know of their infection and no infection took place.
Extra criminal laws in this regard puts people living with the virus very quick into the criminal corner – that is not what we need to stop the stigma and in doing so,  creating an environment where we are really able to stop the spread of the virus.

Filed under: HIV Prevention, Politics and Society, , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. alivenkickn says:


    being hiv + all you have to do is to protect yourself when having sex which means “use condoms” i.e. keep to the safer sex rules.

    maybe you don´t know jonolan but there is something that´s called std.

    your further explanations i don´t comment cause people like you with your way of thinking are the reason why stigma, discrimination and criminalisation exists. you are full of predjudice.

    • @ Alivenkickn – a very valid point.. it underlines ones again that everybody independent of the status, must protect and is responsible for his/her protection. thx for adding to the debatte.

  2. Is knowingly exposing someone to something harmful without informing them of the risk wrong? I think there’d be few ethicists who’d say no.

    Do we lock people away for knowingly exposing someone to herpes? human papillomavirus? Hepatitis B? Nope.

    Do we lock people away for knowingly exposing someone to cigarette smoke? We try to.

    Which diseases we criminalise is a matter of politics and emotions.

    • I would argue that the matter is more complicated than that. My basic line is: If I engage in a sexual activity today, I have to assume that my respective partner is HIV positive. And simply out of that reason I have to protect. And reading your arguments, Stephen, I would add: We have to look much more into detail: What kind of sexual activity? Does the person know he/she is HIV positive? Is he/she on treatment? How long? What CD4 and viral load? etc.. For me, these are very complex questions, therefore I stick to the bottom line: Protection is a “must”, who does not act on this, takes a risk with possible heavy consequences.
      At the end, criminal law does not help to de-stigmatise or bring people to the point to accept their status and deal with it always in a responsible way.

  3. jonolan says:

    Failure to disclose your HIV status should be Class A felony. It is after all, at minimum, Murder in the 2nd Degree by way of Depraved Indifference.

    • I cannot see the point – the criminal code is no adequate tool – except for cases where one intentionally tries to harm another person. In most of the cases related to HIV, I cannot see that. The criminal code as tool to fight HIV creates exactly the opposite. More stigma, more non disclosure, more infections..

      • jonolan says:

        So diseased filth shouldn’t be locked up for deliberately infecting others? That’s hardly justice.

      • I don’t like your language and I don’t see and filth at all – only human beeings – and with that said I would say we agree to disagree completely on that topic. But please watch your language…. Thanks.

      • jonolan says:

        Please understand that the descriptor, “filth,” was intended by context to extend only to those who, like Rhoades, knowingly infected someone else, not the poor souls with HIV in general.

      • @ Jonolan .. thanks for clarification.. and I agree to the point, that if there is an intention to harm, prosecution should get into motion.. but I really believe that there is a responsiblity for us all. To have the black and white scenarrio of bad guy, good guy does not match the real situation. And criminal law does not solve the problem of HIV infection, it might have an opposite effect.

      • jonolan says:

        That’s where we differ; since in civilized countries HIV is primarily a behaviorally caused illness, I feel little responsibility for or towards those infected. I do, however, believe we have a responsibility to the Public health and general wellbeing and safety of society to do all in our power to contain the contagion and prevent further spread of it.

      • thx. Even if you feel little responsibility towards those infected, you surely feel responsibilty for yourself This means to protect yourself at all times.
        I agree that we all have a responsibility towards public health and general wellbeing of people and that we all do whatever is in our power. All agreed. The question remains is legal code a good tool to achieve that.. and there i differ. I don’t think it helps, I believe it even assists spreading the virus as it creates fear and stigma in its own rights.

HIV, Development and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and social development in Africa has its challenges. You will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa, about politics and whatever triggers my interest. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me. Blogging means to initiate thoughts and discussions and for the writer to formulate what is loosely running around in the heart and mind in need of being sorted and spoken out.

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