Journalism in the Public Interest


Sex, Lies and HIV: When What You Don’t Tell Your Partner Is a Crime

People with HIV have been sentenced to years or even decades in prison for having sex without telling their partners they’re infected, even when they practiced safe sex. Are these laws a deterrent to spreading the virus or could they actually fuel the epidemic?

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Saza Windcore

Dec. 2, 2013, 2:15 a.m.

“One thing that makes this case difficult is you don’t look like our usual criminals,” Harris said. “Often times for the court it is easy to tell when someone is dangerous.

Hmm, I wonder what image they have in mind for “usual criminal”....

Mark Hubbard

Dec. 2, 2013, 8:45 a.m.

Brilliant, well-researched, admirably humanizing, exhaustive piece.

One minor quibble re:
“A widely heralded 2011 study found that similar patients were 96 percent less likely to pass HIV on to a partner.”

There is a real scientific question remaining as to just how similar two men with no prior relationship having anal sex is to heterosexual couples in committed relationships of known sero-different status having a primary route of exposure of vaginal sex.


Dec. 2, 2013, 11:24 a.m.

I’m not entirely sure how to navigate this.  I mean, I’m certainly no doctor, but last I checked, there was no 100%-effective bar to any infection except avoiding contact.  Condoms aren’t magical and may well break, for example.

I also don’t understand this drug that—as I understand from the article—would make HIV transmission irrelevant, even if it happened.  That also sounds like it’s supposed to be magic.  If the virus is in your cells, it’s going to move, whether they individual virii are active or dormant, no?

On top of all that—which I freely admit may just be my outdated understanding of the virus—I feel like there’s something wrong with feeling close enough to someone to be intimate, but not close enough to let them make decisions with all the facts.

Let’s remove the implied stigma of HIV.  How acceptable would it be to hide the fact that food has peanuts in it, because hey, it’s not a lot of peanut, allergies are pretty rare in the grand scheme of things, and there’s some Benadryl in the medicine cabinet?  It seems pretty stupid to convict for (pardon the term) sleaze, though, since that’d put half the country in prison.

But, on the other hand, I also recall that HIV infection isn’t particularly likely under even “optimal” circumstances, and a lot of this “better safe than sorry” rhetoric reminds me of the way methods of attack (guns being the first example that comes to mind) often get singled out when there are so many ways for people to hurt one another.

As to the laws being HIV-specific, though, I think it’s pretty clear why that would be.  In its day, AIDS was a painful death-sentence, and is a very serious expense to keep HIV under control, even today.

“Have you ever had any sexual activity with an animal?” “Have you worn female clothing during masturbation?” “Have you ever had sexual contact with a corpse?”

Err…hang on.  Is HIV infection of corpses a problem we really need to worry about?  And what the heck does “female clothing” have to do with anything sex-offender-y!?

See, once you hit that point, the law swings entirely from “a bit outdated but understandable” to really close to “hate crime.”  Those sorts of stereotypes were trite and obviously inaccurate long before AIDS hit the headlines.


Dec. 2, 2013, 12:40 p.m.

Not big on solutions, ALEC…but real, real big on hurting as many Americans as they possibly can - if and only if those Americans are too weak and disorganized to fight back.

I wonder how far AIDS research would have gotten if ALEC had spent as much money funding that research as they have spent against the American people as a whole?


Dec. 2, 2013, 12:48 p.m.

A list of the corporations that make up ALEC (observe the note re bold print regarding the update as of September 2013):

On the flip-side of the coin…that is, on the positive side, see the list of corporations that have cut ties with ALEC:


Dec. 2, 2013, 4:29 p.m.

The discussion of whether to punish HIV positive people who do not inform their partners of their disease seems to be pointless to me.  It seems self evident that those people should be punished.  Can anyone say it is morally OK to knowingly expose another person to a deadly disease without their knowledge?  I should hope not.  What is worthy of discussion is the degree of punishment that is being imposed.  There needs to be a balance.


Dec. 2, 2013, 4:59 p.m.

If someone knows they have hiv and do not disclose this information before having sex with a partner, they are indeed murderous sex offenders.


Dec. 2, 2013, 5:34 p.m.

The law is flawed because it’s based on “knowledge” and therefore impossible.  I think everyone should personally be responsible for their own sexual health.  Assume EVERYONE is positive.  There are other STDs that are more virulent and more difficult to treat than HIV.  It’s no longer a death sentence so “murderous” is a ridiculous claim.  I understand that it totally sucks that someone would transmit when they know, but the potential EFFECT is much worse; a population of people who don’t know their status or even worse - don’t care to know their status because if you don’t know you can’t go to jail based on the law and could be more likely to transmit to those in this case who’ve been responsible about addressing the source of the problem - the disease.


Dec. 2, 2013, 5:46 p.m.

If you knowingly have HIV and don’t inform your partner, you belong in jail.  I am so sick of hearing these apologist stories.  The sentence may have been too harsh, but it merits jail time.  They never say the real reason they don’t tell the partner.  The partner most likely would say no to sex.  I am a gay man and am sick of men that lie about their status.  I use protection but would still not have sex with someone positive.  Most men I know agree.

James F Barry

Dec. 2, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

I have to say being Poz (for 16 years) I always tell everyone (like now) that I’m Poz and I only date=sleep with other poz men…..Its just easier…only another poz person knows what you mean when you say my tummy is “up-set’.....


Dec. 2, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

This is ironic, the common protocol in casual urban sexual encounters is to NOT discuss status. The notion that it’s criminal to withhold this info is ignorant. Most people with HIV don’t even know it, and many who do have it have a one in a million chance of transmission due to undetectable levels in most HIV+ people. People get together and want to have sex and not talk about what germs they have, and their relative odds and avoidance techniques. I could see if someone lies, but for not disclosing? Oy.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 2, 2013, 8:02 p.m.

This travesty of justice and evidence-based policy is the result of religion.  The Christian ethos - most prevalent in rural areas like Iowa - is that people are good or bad, and the bad ones must be punished.  It’s right there in the Old Testament (never mind that Jesus taught the exact opposite, people never seem to notice that.)  It’s the basis for fundamentalism around the world.  And the states in which religion is considered a requirement for political office or political thought have implmented a punitocracy that institutes punishement mindlessly without evidence that it improves society.  (It does not, according to nearly every study done.)  When you add the glacial slowness of our political system so that laws end up being based on knowledge that is often 10-20 years old, HIV policy is completely out of touch with modern research, which comes up with entirely new treatment and transmission models every few years.  The politicians have no right or ability to legislate morality, which is exactly what happened here.


Dec. 3, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

minneapolis22: then “most men you know” are idiots.


Dec. 3, 2013, 4:39 a.m.

This is the correct punishment for transmitting HIV, not disclosing HIV, or having sex without a condom while infected by HIV.  We need to increase enforcement by ensuring that someone is arrested for every single case of HIV transmission or possible transmission in this country.

Tim Lahey

Dec. 3, 2013, 9:16 a.m.

Those who suggest criminalizing HIV transmission should consider whether there is evidence it will reduce or enhance testing and/or transmission. There is none. So why invest in it when other measures are proven to work?

The reason is that proponents of criminalization gravitate toward its punitive aspects -“Those are bad people, we are good, lock them up and throw away the key,” they suggest we say as a society.

Beyond recognizing the whole Foucault-ian police state dynamic, we must face that there is huge illogic to this approach as well. We don’t criminalize transmission of any other lethal infections like TB or influenza nor do we criminalize perpetuation of diseases that burden our society more greatly than HIV like smoking. There is also illogic to the acts we criminalize - it’s insane to criminalize scratching and other sexual or non-sexual acts with negligible risk of transmission. What’s next, criminalization of saying the letters “HIV” just in case their utterance harms someone?

Why the rampant illogic? I suspect it’s because our society views HIV as a disease of the dirty other who is in some way easier to lock up than to deal with effectively and humanely. It is so easy to cast the first stone.

I hope we come to a better place where education, empowerment and skills-building enable the 30+ million folks with HIV to live lives in which they take precautions against transmission including partner notification. Yes, people with HIV should take personal responsibility, and we as a society should support this personal responsibility rationally and humanely. In the meantime we should use our prisons for people who intended harm not those who had sex in a time when HIV disclosure is frightening.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 3, 2013, 10:22 a.m.

As a poz man, I know from personal experience that not only is it terrifying to disclose to a sexual partner but its far more terrifying to disclose to yourself.  What I mean by that is that going and getting tested when it feels as though it’s a death sentence and a life of ostracism is something I put off for a long time (too long for my own good.)  With the statistics saying that half of HIV transmissions come from people who don’t know their status, this makes perfect sense to me.  It also shines the light of truth on the Neanderthals who are making comments in here that people should be punished for transmitting the disease. They are victims of the same fear that keeps those with the disease from disclosing.  The fear of death, abandonment, and suffering is what rules these heartless policies which actually increase the transmission rate.

What we’ve learned in 30 years of this epidemic is that NOT talking is what spreads HIV.  Those of you advocating punishment are advocating the spread of HIV.

Ultimately what has to be said is that everyone who is not HIV positive is responsible for their own health, because you can’t know if the next person you’re having sex with is positive or not - because they don’t know!  This is not “blame the victim” but it is a letting-go of the victim-consciousness that rules our legal system.  As long as we think there are “blameless victims” we are not assigning responsibility for ending the epidemic where it belongs.


Dec. 3, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

lollll…you sound like you work for ALEC, “DB”.  I note the non-specificity of your

We need to increase enforcement by ensuring that someone is arrested for every single case of HIV transmission or possible transmission in this country.

Of course, in those not-so-rare cases where the newly infected is promiscuous and so cannot positively identify who is responsible for “transmitting HIV, not disclosing HIV, or having sex without a condom” then just picking “someone” would - beyond the public deception of halting the spread of AIDS - also serve the purpose of incarcerating a member of the gay community or a hetero who failed to adhere to the “conservative” stricture that no American have sex outside of marriage…

And so, perhaps, ensure conformity with the autarchic demands of America’s so-called “conservatives” at penalty of the whip of totalitarianism.


Dec. 3, 2013, 11:03 a.m.

Tim, I admit (as I did above) to not being that far ahead of the pack, but do keep in mind that it’s within the majority’s lifetime that one in three people who contracted HIV died and the virus evaded every attempt to treat it.

I know there’s a large group that wants to make this about the stigma gay men face, and I get that it’s not fun, but you’re talking about a disease that was only less terrifying than rabies, just thirty years ago.  It was shocking enough that the first White House press conference that mentioned it (weeks after the CDC announced it was a real disease) was broken up by laughter from people thinking it was a joke.  Even if it was transmitted by sexy supermodels, it’d still have been traumatic.

The reasons to fear it may have been diminished in the last quarter-century, but those strides aren’t widely reported, because it’s largely (and inexplicably, and rather offensively) considered a “gay problem.”

The answer is to present the facts, not accuse anybody ignorant of the facts of bigotry.  This hasn’t been a problem limited to the gay community in a very long time.

Also, I agree that prison isn’t the answer, but there’s a looong list of people in prisons for reasons I’d say prison isn’t the answer, as well, whereas this at least has the potential to harm someone and shows a certain reckless intent.


Dec. 3, 2013, 11:13 a.m.

America’s so-called “conservatives” cause me to gag…after watching them for nigh on 50 years, I’m fairly positive that their various and intemperate reactions to both AIDS and America’s changing sexual mores are driven by the restraint that the possibility of contracting AIDS places upon their own behavior.

It is hard to practice (or enjoy…) the excesses - the modern versions of droit du seigneur - enabled by power and wealth if you have to worry about more than taking a quick trip offshore for a dose of penicillin.


Dec. 3, 2013, 11:22 a.m.

Don’t pink wash it, John. The laughter wasn’t shock, and it wasn’t nervousness. It was contempt, it was bigotry. It was “those stupid fags deserve to die, how funny!”

The facts have been out there, and in the past several years, the mainstream press hasn’t done nearly as poor a job of covering it as they did earlier, without fear mongering. It is bigotry that keeps people from listening.

In the past 15 years or so, I know far more people who have died or severely suffered from the effects of the shaming imposed on them than have died or suffered from the physical effects of being infected by a non-disclosing partner. Don’t minimize the former and say that “the facts” are only about the latter as an issue.

Tim Lahey

Dec. 3, 2013, 11:29 a.m.

I completely agree with John that fear of HIV is a major source of the desire to imprison people who transmit it. It was frightening at the outset, and still a mighty foe.

Yet the special fascination with criminalization of HIV transmission and not other frightening and transmissible health problems does suggests there is a special social dynamic at play here.

Historically, such social dynamics - i.e. of one demographic group wanting to jail another demographic group - often occur because the second group has other socially-marginalized characteristics including but not limited to being born with a less prevalent sexual orientation. HIV by virtue of being more common among many marginalized groups is the perfect discriminatory storm.

It’s also undeniably true that ignorance of modern day HIV-related prognosis fuels the persistence of the illogical desire to imprison people who transmit HIV. Certainly we all have things we could learn better, but it seems the responsibility of the lawmaker or pundit to get the facts straight before proposing to throw a citizen in jail for sexual behavior.

In the end, no single simple interpretation is entirely right, but probably best for us to admit contributors to what is a scientifically unfounded approach to HIV containment.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 3, 2013, 11:58 a.m.

I just reread the quote from ALEC’s Alan Smith: “I guess there was a worry that there would be a lot worse disease than it could’ve been if people were actually on a mission to make sure more people got it so more research money could be devoted to curing it”

The level of paranoia and delusional thinking these people have is off the scale.  Everything that happens in reality is a conspiracy against them, or as Stephen Colbert said “reality has a decidedly liberal bias” which is both true and makes fun of the likes of ALEC.

Are these the people we want to tolerate setting policy for us?  They’re not rational, not scientific, and not in the public interest.


Dec. 3, 2013, 4:26 p.m.

There are other issues within this issue of criminalizing the transmission of AIDS…

Consider the potential for racial bias in sentencing (what?  the incarcerated in America reflects a racial bias?)...

Consider also the comment left by “Cree Seven” to the above-linked PBS story…and the utility of such criminalization to anyone interested in furthering a strategy of “Divide, and conquer.”

Seer Clearly

Dec. 3, 2013, 5:20 p.m.

Minneapolis22: either you believe safe sexy works or you don’t.  If you don’t believe it and you’re as paranoid about getting infected as you sound, then you have no business having sex at all.  If you do believe it works, then you have no reason not to have sex with a poz guy.  In fact, it’s the ones who think they’re negative but are poz - responsible for 50% of transmission - who are the dangerous ones to have sex with because they’re untreated and infectious, while the ones under treatment are unlikely to infect anyone.  So while you think you’re taking care of yourself, you’re really exposing yourself to the very risk you’re trying to avoid, while propagating bigotry and baseless fear in your own community that only serves to drive people apart and spread the disease.  You are the problem, not the solution.  Get informed.


Dec. 3, 2013, 11:02 p.m.

If you so sure people infected with HIV must be criminally prosecuted, than you must stand ready to write criminal penalties for all infections: syphilis, herpes, MRSA, TB, CHOLERA, WHOOPING cough, hep c, mononucleosis,  pneumonia, flu etc etc. How sure are you now?


Dec. 4, 2013, 3:25 a.m.

The “lock them up” supporters of these laws completely ignore the fact that TWO people decided to have sex, including decisions about safe sex and specific sexual acts, but only one is being punished for their potentially poor decisions.

It’s an undisputable fact that only a person has been tested HIV positive has certain and accurate knowledge of their serostatus. Those who have never been tested don’t know at all. Those who were negative as of their last test negative can only be reasonably confident that their last test result was negative: they might have become infected soon after their blood was drawn. They may even have been infected soon before their blood test when the viral load was too low to be detected.

Because you simply can’t know for certain, individuals have to accept at least some responsibility for their active participation in exposing themselves to the possibility of HIV infection.

(Individuals who deliberately and maliciously intend to infect others with HIV without their knowing consent are a special case, deserving of punishment. But there are other laws which adequately deal with this situation.)


Dec. 5, 2013, 10:37 p.m.

The law that Rhoades has been charged and convicted under was likely hastily written in response to a bad case that was in the media and no one had the time to look at the law and how it could and would be applied.  Clearly Rhoades did not tell the guys he had sex with of his HIV status, but that should not make him a level 3 sex offender and getting 25 yrs in prison when baby rapers get off easier than that.  There will always be disagreement on whether his not disclosing should have been a crime or because he was undetectable and used protection, rendering it not a crime.  But clearly if it is a crime the punishment should not be what Rhoades was given, especially classification as a level 3 sex offender.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 5, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

The entire set of laws in the US around “sex offenders” is completely punishment oriented and neither takes into account the cause nor the rehabilitiation from sex offenses and in fact makes a lot of things sex offenses when indeed they are more a matter of general psychopathy.  Most serious sex offenders are the victims of abuse from family and relatives/friends as children and the state simply continues the abuse as adults, expecting a different outcome.  Once again fear, religion and morality replace sound mental health policy or compassionate care.


Dec. 10, 2013, 1:04 p.m.

I would prefer a life without parole sentence.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 11, 2013, 3:31 a.m.

Obbop: punishment doesn’t work.  We’ve got lots of crime data to show that.  It fundamentally conflicts with the way the human ego functions, creating a rebel rather than a compliant collaborator.  So if punishment doesn’t work, the only motive you’d have for your neanderthal approach would be revenge.  That sounds like a personal problem.  But ultimately as was said above, it takes two people to have sex, and the one who has the most effective control over whether HIV is transmitted or not is the negative partner, since the positive partner only knows about 50% of the time.  Your solution is like putting the your leg in a cast when you break your arm.


Dec. 14, 2013, 11:04 a.m.

After thinking about it…then IMHO the way to go about it is:

1) If a party knew they had HIV/AIDS or were indulging in sex outside of a monogamous relationship but, in either case, didn’t warn their sexual and/or relationship partner

1b) all parties are in possession of a witnessed contract whose violation carries criminal penalties wherein all parties assert that they do not have HIV/AIDS per the results of some mutually-agreed upon test for HIV/AIDS

1b1) in the case of formal relationships wherein both individuals agree that they are to be monogamous

1b1a)  contract specified in 1b will reflect the proposed term of the monogamous relationship

1b1a1) contract specified in 1b will remain valid, however, until the relationship is formally dissolved by either individual

  1b1a2) when not in mutual agreement, the party which initiates the dissolution bears the burden of providing proof that notification of dissolution was given to other party

1b2)  If a party to a formal relationship agreement fails to remain monogamous and consequently contracts HIV/AIDS and subsequently transmits HIV/AIDS to their formal partner, then the violating party will be immediately adjudged to have broken the contract

If that contract exists and those conditions can be proved in a court of law, then it is my opinion that the party victimized by the lack of honesty on the part of the other party - that is, the party that becomes infected by AIDS or HIV - should be entitled to participate in the penalty phase…should, in fact, be able to determine the penalty.

Said penalty to include and be limited to some combination (victim’s choice!) of payment of the victim’s medical bills (and funeral bills, if necessary), the financial care of any dependent children the victim may have the victim die, and the incarceration of the perpetrator up to the period of natural life (incarceration portion of sentence to be immediately commuted on discovery of a “cure” for HIV/AIDs that kills the virus outright or renders the virus both harmless to the victim and non-transmissible assuming the perpetrator is cured of HIV/AIDS).

And punitive damages, of course - such transmission inflicts immediate social (if not physical) harm on the victim - of up to 50% of the perpetrator’s current net worth and 50% of their future income above 150% of the regional poverty level.

And if you don’t have the above contract, then don’t bother the courts - be they criminal or civil - as they’re already overworked and underfunded.

My intent is to get the so-called “conservatives” who are in reality just jumping at another/any opportunity to exercise their sadism out of it and focus on the victim.

(Please don’t throw the “But that will take the spontaneity out of sex!” argument out there…the existence of HIV/AIDS - in human society, let alone in a potential sexual partner - should already have done that unless you have a death wish.  And frankly anybody who has a death wish who chooses the transmission of HIV/AIDS as their path to oblivion meets the criteria for admission to a facility for the criminally insane in that they are a threat to themselves and - not “and/or” - society.)


Dec. 14, 2013, 11:36 a.m.

Obviously some details to iron out…like how old can an HIV/AIDS test be before it is considered invalid for the purposes of said contract, criminal liability of laboratories/pharmaceutical corporations which analyze results of said tests if they knowingly fake doing the work or maintain physical conditions which would invalidate the test, the inclusion of a clause asserting that the contracted parties have not engaged in sexual behavior within whatever period before the test would make the test incapable of detecting HIV/AIDS or after the test except with the other parties on the contract, etc.

Lawyer heaven…but if you want to nullify the maneuverings of those who like to use the law to deprive others of liberty and/or exercise their sadism, then - given the number of judges/justices who are appointed not for their wisdom and expertise but for their ideology - you have to (how dubya-ish) head them off at the pass.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 14, 2013, 8:50 p.m.

ibsteve2u, you sound like you have your heart in the right place but the combination of legal strictures and punishment is NOT the way to deal with this.  It’s still stuck in the spiritually and sociologically incorrect paradigm of victim/perpetrator which handcuffs our ability to create holistic solutions to society’s problems.  In this case, there is NO VICTIM - unless someone got raped.  There are only ignorant and willing participants.  Witholding HIV status from someone you have sex with, given the statistic that 50% of transmissions in the US come from people who don’t know their status, is irrelevant, since the information being witheld isn’t there in most cases.  Instead, the potential future “victims” need to educate themselves about the risks and if anyone signs anything (much as I ask of people I get intimate with) they should be signing an “adult’s acknowledgement of the risks of sexual activity” before having sex.  Getting educated serves two purposes: it eliminates the state of victimhood AND it allows people to make intelligent choices, since the chances of HIV transmission are small anyway, and with someone who’s on treatement either zero or close to it, depending on which verified studies you believe.  But a contract for fidelity, hygeine, or abstinence is not going to work - we’ve already tried those!


Dec. 16, 2013, 10:47 a.m.

@“seer clearly”:

Think I’ll focus on one statement of yours since it forms the core of your “Caveat emptor!” arguments:

Witholding HIV status from someone you have sex with, given the statistic that 50% of transmissions in the US come from people who don’t know their status, is irrelevant, since the information being witheld isn’t there in most cases.

a)  Obviously I had to point out your interpretation of “50%” as being mathematically equivalent to “most”; those of us who have dealt with individuals who play with statistics in order to prove their arguments recognize such…semantics…as a red flag.

b) if 50% of all firearms incidents resulting in injury or death involve those who “didn’t know the weapon was loaded”, then should society - let alone the victims - automatically condone the actions of those who point a firearm at another human being while knowing both that the firearm is loaded and the consequence hitting the target?

Should society, rather than hold the perpetrator accountable for actions that he or she knowingly took without warning the victim, instead reprimand the victim for failing to wear a scalp-to-toes Kevlar vest at all times…and then turn their backs, leaving the shooter to repeat his or her behavior?

That latter paragraph is the equivalent of your demand from my perspective…


Dec. 16, 2013, 10:58 a.m.

Hmm…I suppose I should have been more precise lest I get a “No harm, no foul!” argument next:

should society - let alone the victims - automatically condone the actions of those who point and fire a firearm at another human being while knowing both that the firearm is loaded and the consequence [of] hitting the target?

seer clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 11:28 a.m.

ibsteve2, clearly you have powerful intellect, but the problem with a powerful intellect is that it can more easily be used to delude yourself when it comes under control of your emotional system.  I know this since I’m a recovering intellect addict.  In the case of your arguments, you’re so in the head with it that you aren’t seeing the obvious.  With regards to “most”, when you factor in the delay between when a person is last tested and when they have sex, the information on their status is available less than the 50% of shall we say “unaware” transmissions since some fraction of the transmitters will have become positive since their last test. 

But where you completely go off the rails is comparing HIV transmission to gun violence, a particularly timely topic. When I first saw your reworded point, I thought you were having a moment of clarity and getting ready to go after people who perpetrate gun violence with some kind of legal remedy besides the government’s usual shrugging it off at the prompting of the provably deranged (but influential) gun lobby.  However, instead you disappointed me by missing the most obvious hole in your own argument, which is that with HIV transmission the “target” can simply step out of the way, but with gun violence, they cannot. 

This is the crucial difference between your argument and mine, and you’ve actually succeeded my making my point that the HIV-negative participant in a sexual contact is fully responsible for their own safety because ONLY they can take a step that is sure to prevent transmission.  And this is why wrapping up the positive person (or if both are negative, both parties) in a punitive legal stricture is ridiculous.

Now for my simile:  Imagine someone is standing in a crosswalk and a bus is barrelling down on them.  They have no control over whether the bus is going to hit the brakes, swerve out of the way, or hit them.  The legal system will hold the bus driver responsible if they get killed or hurt.  However, in the end, they’re still dead if they get hit.  And if the problem is mechanical failure, nobody will be punished.  But the pedestrian in the end, has the power of life or death over himself.  He can simply step out of the way.  So who has the true power and true responsibility here?  The potential “victim.”

You’re busted: despite your sounding like you’re taking the high moral ground here, you’re just another addict to the unexamined “eye-for-an-eye” old testament Christian dogma that creates a country of 300 million victims instead of 300 million people standing in their own personal power.

Tim Lahey

Dec. 16, 2013, 11:43 a.m.

I have a dream, people. I dream one day we will consider in our public discourse more than one idea at once, and do it without name-calling. Unrealistic you say? That’s what they all say to dreamers. I’m keepin’ it alive.

As above, criminalizing HIV transmission is foolhardy. There is no proof it works, it brings the government into our bedrooms, and it is highly likely to thwart proven approaches to HIV transmission. That is one idea. Hold onto it because here I go, to part 2.

Part 2 is that we should understand that there is a rational basis for statements by those like ibsteve2u who argue for personal responsibility on the part of folks who have HIV. I agree with the basis for their assertions, if not their conclusions. We DO have a right to expect of people with HIV, or those with any transmissible disease, some exhibition of personal responsibility to take steps to prevent transmission. They *should* take those measures. At the same time, we should understand reasons they might not, i.e. that their agency is constrained. But that does not change our expectation. That is idea number two.

The corollary to idea #2 is that we should expect personal responsibility of anyone who has sex in the 21st century. Folks without HIV - or least who think they don’t have HIV, recall that 20% of people with HIV don’t know it… - too should recognize the risk of HIV and take steps to protect themselves since their health is at stake. Wait, wait, didn’t I just say that we should expect personal responsibility of people with HIV above? Aren’t we done, can’t I go back to ... what was I doing? No, in fact, I’m not done: it’s not all or nothing - we can expect personal responsibility of them too.

Let’s bring those ideas together. This is heavy lifting, people. Let’s expect personal responsibility - of all parties - but not criminalize HIV transmission. The former is the glue that holds civilized society together. The latter - well, see above. It doesn’t work and it has unacceptable risks.

Next up: world peace.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 11:53 a.m.

hear, hear, Tim.

Actually you bring up a very valid point that nobody here has talked about.  Suppose that person A - the “victim” - thinks they’re HIV negative and has a test to prove it.  However, in fact, the test was done a while back or perhaps they were exposed within the seroconversion window.  In any case, they are HIV+ and think they’re HIV-.  Now, they have sex with person B, who is positive, but doesn’t disclose, or the protection fails, or ... 

Now, a few months later, person B gets tested again and shows up as positive.  They initiate legal action against person A.  In many states, person B can be arrested and imprisoned before the DNA signature of the virus is determined, which should exonerate them (but may not if the genomes of the viruses are the same… this is not an area I know much about.) 

In any event, it’s one more example of how the legal system cannot and SHOULD not take action in the absence of both clear information - which is nearly impossible to get in these cases - and appropriately weighing personal responsibility.


Dec. 16, 2013, 2:58 p.m.

Hopefully this conversation will be spread throughout the LGBT and the heterosexual communities, for people need to understand that others exist who effectively defend HIV/AIDS+ individuals having sex with you without telling you as a human right - and you have no right to expect that an HIV/AIDS+ individual will warn you of their condition.

Makes you wonder why someone would think a law was necessary.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 3:16 p.m.

ibsteve2u, I agree that this conversation and more like it need to be spread throughout the public as a whole.  The numbers of people in all walks of life that I run into who are ignorant of both the infectious agent (HIV) etiology as well as the issues around personal responsibility and law are huge.  And, for example, I’d never have sex with someone who was so uninformed that they didn’t ask about my HIV status or didn’t know what it meant: that would be like asking a child to decide whether to drive, or drive, or do any other adult thing that requires knowledge to be responsible.

However, your hyperbole about the comments above that was expressed as “having sex with you without telling you as a human right” is ridiculous, and is probably still because you are stuck in the victim mentality where protection from harm is often talked about as a human right.  My entire point above was that the focus of the conversation around the “perpetrator” was misguided, not that people should be enabled to be dishonest with one another, and I find myself wondering whether you intentionally or accidentally missed that point.

As a matter of public health policy - or any social policy - punishment SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK!  3000+ years of society, often implementing draconian Old Testament or Koranic punishments hasn’t resolved society’s ills.  But today we have evidence-based, logical approaches available to us that can be shown to work (even if certain political parties like to ignore them.)

Seer Clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 3:20 p.m.

Qnetter: from where I stand, your rant - while illustrating my point - is just as ridiculous as those from the the Old Testament believers in punitoracy.  You’re talking about punishment, and we as a society have considerably more effective tools for managing public policy than that.

As an aside, this sounds like a personal issue… as it always is with someone who advocates revenge of any sort.  You’ll be a lot clearer-headed if you deal with the personal aspects of this issue first.


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:21 p.m.

Seer: you say: “I’d never have sex with someone who was so uninformed that they didn’t ask about my HIV status”... but I never ask, because I know that the word of someone who tells me he is HIV-negative is useless, and potentially dangerously misleading, to me. So I assume that every partner is HIV-positive… leaving them free to talk about it if they choose, and free not to have our interaction be a threesome between them, me, and their status if they would rather have a break from discussing it. Otherwise, “if they say they’re HIV-positive, believe them—but if they say they’re HIV-negative, don’t”... how does that work, exactly?

Seer Clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 3:31 p.m.

Asking about status or otherwise bringing it up is a great way to get synced on where each party is with respect to risk tolerance, self-care, and responsibility.  It’s just that most people ask about status, not ask the better question, which is “what constitutes safe sex for you?”  You’re reading too much into each word I write, but thanks for reading them so carefully!


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:37 p.m.

@‘seer clearly’

I never said anything about trusting “the word” of someone else; I said the results of a test.

Your insistence that HIV+/AIDS+ individuals bear no responsibility for telling their potential partners that they have HIV or AIDS is what I find to be despicable, for it does not consider the desires and rights of those who would not only wear protection but would choose not to have sex with an HIV+/AIDS+ individual at all.

And I suspect that you both know and intend that abrogation.


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:38 p.m.

@‘seer clearly’

I never said anything about trusting “the word” of someone else; I said the results of a test.

Your insistence that HIV+/AIDS+ individuals bear no responsibility for telling their potential partners that they have HIV or AIDS is what I find to be despicable, for it does not consider the desires and rights of those who would not only wear protection but would choose not to have a physical relationship with an HIV+/AIDS+ individual at all.

And I suspect that you both know and intend that abrogation.


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:38 p.m.

@‘seer clearly’

I never said anything about trusting “the word” of someone else; I said the results of a test.

Your insistence that HIV+/AIDS+ individuals bear no responsibility for telling their potential partners that they have HIV or AIDS is what I find to be less than tolerable, for it does not consider the desires and rights of those who would not only wear protection but would choose not to have a physical relationship with an HIV+/AIDS+ individual at all.

And I suspect that you both know and intend that abrogation.


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:51 p.m.

ibsteve2u: “the results of a test” are useless, if not harmful.  A negative HIV test result from ten minutes ago means one of two things: either (a) HIV-negative OR (b) infected recently enough not to be showing antibodies. Unfortunately, since (b) also means “likely to be throwing off virus at alarming rates,” assuming a negative test result means anything is a self-destructive behavior.


Dec. 16, 2013, 3:58 p.m.

I believe I covered determining what both parties agreed was an appropriate interval to have foregone sex prior to the test in an earlier message.

Frankly resistance to taking all possible precautions is disturbing even when it doesn’t come from an HIV- or AIDS-positive individual - especially when the subject at hand is not telling prospective partners when you already know you’re positive.

To the point, the effort expended on twisting it around to place the fault with those who tell others that they are - <i>to the best of their and medical science’s knowledge - negative is…most curious.

Seer Clearly

Dec. 16, 2013, 4:38 p.m.

well ibsteve2, your spam posts have put this forum under moderation, perhaps that’s what you wanted to avoid having to face the facts you have been ignorning?

Theodoric Meyer

Dec. 16, 2013, 4:40 p.m.

Please keep the comments civil. Otherwise they will be deleted.

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