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Criminalizing HIV non-disclosure laws


Criminalizing HIV non-disclosure laws were first established in the 1990s before a clear understanding of HIV and HIV transmission. In the beginning of the HIV crisis, HIV was being transmitted at high rates. Lawmakers believed that by making criminalizing laws that it would increase HIV non-disclosure rates. However, because the laws targeted people with HIV fear was created by people with HIV of being prosecuted. Instead of people disclosing their HIV status, they failed to get tested and didn’t disclose their status to anyone. Over the past thirty years, the criminalizing HIV has not shown to have no impact on HIV transmission. Medication available today has been studied and shown to decrease transmission rates and even stop new transmission of HIV to people who are HIV negative.

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In the past thirty years, the HIV epidemic has impacted individuals on a global level. In the beginning of the HIV crisis, many people were being infected with the deadly disease. In 1981 the first person was diagnosed with HIV (CDC, 2018). Within two decades, the disease had spread to thousands of people. Thousands of men, women and children were being infected and diagnosed with HIV. Because the disease was spreading at an alarming rate, the government decide to implement a law regarding HIV transmission. In 1990, the first criminalizing HIV non-disclosure law was established. According the Center for Disease Control, “these laws impose criminal penalties on people living with HIV who know their HIV status and who potentially expose others to HIV” (CDC, n.d.). The laws may have been intended to stop the transmission of HIV, however that purpose was not achieved. The criminalizing HIV law installed fear and contentment for people with HIV. Instead of helping and educating people with HIV, the law made people infected with HIV hide in fear of being prosecuted for having the disease. In men clinic, a questionnaire conducted by Kesler, Kaul, Loutfy, Myers, & Brunetta involving HIV testing. Of those questioned, 73% of the participants stated that they were scared of being put in jail for not disclosing their HIV status (Kesler, 2018). In another research involving women with HIV, the authors states “women may delay disclosure to sexual partners due to fear of stigma” (Patterson, Milloy, Ogilvie, Greene, Nicholson, Vonn, Hogg, Kaida). The fear of repercussions of jail time must be removed from the HIV communities to aide in disclose. Communities are put at risk when people with HIV fail to disclose their HIV status. The current HIV criminalizing laws are based on outdated information. HIV non-disclosure laws doesn’t incorporate prevention measures, new medication available or the use of condoms (Lehman, Carr, Nichol, Ruisanchez, Knight, Langford, Gray, & Mermin, 2014). To reduce fear in the HIV community, to increase HIV testing and decrease HIV transmission the criminalizing HIV law should be eliminated as law prosecuting HIV individuals.

“For the past three decades, legislative approaches to prevent HIV transmission have been used at the national, state, and local levels” (Lehman, 2014). In the United States, 32 states have criminalizing HIV non-disclosure laws. The current laws are formatted from information and statists from the 1990. According to Stackpool-Moore a person that knows their HIV status and engages in irresponsible or careless behavior can be subjected to criminal misconduct and placed in jail (Stackpool-Moore, 2013). Under the criminalizing HIV laws, an individual with HIV can be imprisoned for risky behavior such as spitting on a person. Even though saliva has been ruled out as a risk for transmitted HIV, HIV-positive people can face jail time for spitting. A person with HIV can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor or felony depending on the states the act occurred in. For example, in North Carolina and Maryland a person that fails to disclose their HIV status can be charged with misdemeanor (Lehman, 2014). In other states the person can face up to ten years in prison for not disclosing HIV status. States are using outdated information related to HIV. In Canada, if a positive HIV individual is convicted under their criminalization law, they can face up to life in jail and listed on the National Sex Offender Registry (Patterson, 2015). Consequently, people with HIV are being targeted by these outdated laws. “Arguing against the criminalizing HIV law, some health commentators believe the laws undermine U.S. public health efforts to prevent further infections” (Hanrsono, Galletly, O’Keefe, & Lazzarini, 2017). Fear of incarceration continues to deter individuals with HIV from essential testing. In order for an individual to receive medication for HIV, they must be tested first. Many individuals know the law exist and fail to get tested because of it. According to Kesler, because individuals are afraid of the criminalizing HIV law they are refusing to get tested and putting thousands of people at risk for HIV transmission. So, if fear is what is stopping individuals from testing shouldn’t the fear be removed. The criminalizing HIV laws has placed fear in the communities instead of promoting health as once believed. In an article written by Grace the author states, “ there is no scientific evidence to suggest that a positive correlation exists between the law prevalence of HIV in a country and the use of the criminal law” (Grace, 2015). Eliminating the criminalizing HIV non- disclosure law, could increase HIV testing. Testing is an important aspect to decreasing HIV transmission. Knowing their HIV status could decrease transmission rates. Communities HIV transmission rate decline with each test performed on at risk individuals. The criminalizing HIV laws were established without considering medication that could reduce transmission of HIV and even prevent the transmission of HIV.

Currently there are several antiviral medications available to the community to reduce HIV. Treatment of antiretroviral medication has shown to slow down the probability of contracting HIV. According to the CDC, antiretroviral HIV regimen helps individual with HIV live longer and healthier lives. In addition, individuals are now being offered medication that can stop the transmission of HIV. Pre- exposure prophylaxis (known as PreP) is a medication that is given to people that do not have HIV but at risk for contacting the disease. The CDC further states the medication PreP works by keeping the virus from becoming a permanent infection. If people are risk for HIV or that have HIV begin treatment regimens to stop the disease, why does the law still criminalize them? Criminalizing HIV does not promote intake of medication or preventive medication. Promoting healthy habits by individuals with is why the law was started however, that is not the circumstances at the present.

In conclusion, laws that criminalize individuals because of their HIV status is not supporting positive health in the society. As stated by Lazzarini, Galletly, Mykhalovaskiy, Harsono, O’Keefe, Singer, & Levine, “ concerns remains that these laws are often used to punish behavior that poses little or no risk of transmission and may have negative impacts on public health practices and efforts to reduce HIV infections” (Lazzarini, 2013). Studies have shown over the past thirty years that preventive measures and the right medication can prevent the spread of HIV. If HIV transmission rates can be decreased with medication and HIV transmission can even be stopped does society really need laws criminalizing HIV individuals? With new and current technology and medication being study, HIV can be eradicated. The criminalizing HIV law may have worked in the beginning however, now they are outdated and only elicits fear in the HIV communities.


CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from HIV- Specific Criminal Laws:

Grace, D. (2015, July). Criminalizing HIV transmission suing model law: troubling best practice standardizations in the global HIV/AIDS response. Critical public health, 25(4), 441-454. Retrieved July 9, 2018, from

Harsono, D. G. (2016). Criminalization of HIV Exposure: A Review of Empiricals Studies in the United States. AIDS Behav, 21, 27-50. doi:10.1007/s10461-016-1540-5

Kesler, M. K. (2018, January). Posecution of non-disclosure of HIV status: Potential impact on HIV testing and transmission among HIV-negative men who have sex with men. PLOS ONE; San Francisco, 13(2). doi:10.1371/journal.prone.0193269

Lazzarini, Z. J. (2013, August). Criminalization of HIV Transmission and Exposure: Research and Policy Agenda. American Journal of Public Health, 103(8). Retrieved August 7, 2018, from

Lehman, S. C. (2014). Prevalance and public health implications of state laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure in the United States. AIDS AND, 18(6), 997-1006. doi:10.1007/s10461-014-0724-0

Patterson, S. M.-J. (2015, December). The impact of criminalization of HIV non-disclosure on the healthcare engagement of women living with HIV in Canda: A comphrensive review of the evidence. Journal Of The International AIDS Society, 18(1). doi:10.7448/IAs.18.20572

Stackpool-Moore, L. (2013, June). The intention may not be cruel…but the impact may be: understand legislators’ motives and wider public attitudes to a draft HIV Bill in Malawi. Sexual Transmitted Infections; London, 89(4), 285. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2012050976

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