“No one should ever knowingly put another person at risk of harm, but the ability to disclose is not quite as simple as that,” said Sean Strub, President of the Sero Project, an advocacy group fighting for decriminalization of HIV/AIDS.
In a newly released 11-minute film, “HIV Criminalization: Masking Fear and Discrimination,” the group explains the difficulties HIV positive people face with dating and relationships. The film also includes stories from HIV positive people who have endured prison and prosecution.
More than 30 states, including Florida, have HIV-specific laws that criminalize behavior by people living with HIV.
“HIV criminalization feels very much like unfinished business for me as an HIV advocate,” said Mark S. King, one of the film’s producers. “How in the world can we turn our backs on those who face jail time because they live in a society in which they are so feared and stigmatized that they find it difficult to disclose their HIV positive status to their partner.”
“With HIV we can prosecute it or prevent it – you can’t do both,” said Strub.
The film makes the case that HIV criminalization laws were passed during the late 1980s and early 1990s when contracting the virus was near fatal. With advances in modern medicine, HIV positive people are living longer and can achieve undetectable status.
Criminalization of HIV, health care workers admit, is also a major barrier in preventing people from being tested.
“Never before in the history of our law have we punished somebody because they carry a virus,” said Cecilia Chung, a Sero Project board of directors member from San Francisco.