The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

The Greyhound

The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

The Greyhound

HIV control laws overreaching, ineffective

By Samantha Van Doran, Staff Writer

Recently, a Missouri man in his mid-thirties was arrested for exposing over three hundred sexual partners to HIV. David Lee Mangum, according to countless news sources, was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2003 and has allegedly had unprotected sex with hundreds of people—some he knew, many he didn’t—since that time.

HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which is caused by HIV) have instilled a paralyzing fear in the hearts of Americans since before scientists could really even determine what they were. In the 1980s, AIDS was referred to as “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID) because many of the first observed cases of the disease were in homosexual men and drug users.

Since then, people with HIV and AIDS have had to live with the diseases’ stigmas in addition to their impaired immune systems. One such stigma is the belief that people with HIV/AIDS should be avoided at all costs. Another, particularly hurtful stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is that people who have the diseases did something “wrong” to get them (such as having sex with another man or injecting a used heroin needle into one’s arm) and therefore deserve the disease as punishment. In our society today, even after decades of research and advocacy for HIV patients, the people who contract it are seen as frightening, lesser and “other.”

Mangum’s arrest was possible because there are laws in many states, including Missouri, which try to prevent or at least slow the spread of HIV. In Mangum’s home state, for example, it is illegal to wittingly expose someone to HIV without disclosing your HIV positive status to them, and then obtaining their consent after that. Mangum’s former partner went to the police claiming that Mangum had not disclosed his status—and considering Mangum did not even know the full names of the 300 people he slept with, it is doubtful that he told those partners either.

A law like this might seem simple and fair enough: obviously, we don’t want people who know they are HIV positive to pass it on to unsuspecting partners, and it is perfectly fine if a couple chooses to have sex after one person discloses his or her HIV positive status. However, beneath the surface these HIV-specific laws are problematic and can actually do more harm than good.

First of all, it is very difficult to prove that disclosure has ever taken place. On my Spring Break Outreach trip last March, my group saw a film in which a woman with HIV had her life ruined by ending an abusive relationship. Her ex-partner had her arrested for failing to disclose her status, even though she had disclosed it to him years earlier. At the time of the film screening, her trial was still ongoing.

It’s not uncommon for angry partners to lash out like this. We also met a young man named Robert at the screening, whose partner falsely claimed there’d been no disclosure between them. Robert was sentenced to jail time as a result, and had to register as a sex offender for 15 years.

Another problem with HIV-specific laws is that much of the time (and in Robert’s case) the punishment does not fit the crime. HIV is not automatically transmitted when two people have unprotected sex—in fact, if the infected person keeps up with their treatments and their viral load is low, the risk of transmitting HIV can be minimal or even nonexistent. Yet, when this person has consensual sex with someone healthy and does not transmit the disease, alleged failure to disclose can lead to sentences more severe than ones for rape and assault.

HIV-specific laws vary by location; in Texas, one man with HIV was sentenced to 35 years for spitting on someone else. These flawed statutes are similar in that they are out of date, and do not reflect remotely current research findings on HIV and AIDS. (For example, we now know that HIV is transmitted through body fluids such as blood and semen, but not saliva.) What they do reflect is the lasting stigma associated with HIV, and we need to realize this in order to make the justice system truly just on this subject. Right now, we aren’t protecting people so much as criminalizing HIV.

One resource on this subject is the Sero Project, which aims to end HIV criminalization. Sero is “a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom and injustice.” The Project wishes to spread awareness about these laws and urges people with HIV to have their partners sign a disclosure acknowledgment form so they can prevent prosecution down the line. Sero hosted the film screening my SBO group attended in March, and we were fortunate enough to meet some of its passionate members.
Many board members have gone to jail for alleged nondisclosure, and they are rightfully determined to save peers from injustice. The first step in achieving this goal with them is to educate ourselves. I urge anyone who is concerned over this issue—whether you know someone who has HIV or not—to visit for even more information. Together, we can work to end stigmas and ensure that people with HIV are treated more fairly.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All The Greyhound Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • H

    holiday dressesSep 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    This content is well researched and written with a lot of interesting points and unique content. Please keep up the good work on this site. Thank you for making your article so clear and engaging.

Activate Search
HIV control laws overreaching, ineffective