After conducting weeks of research, my perspective has been drastically altered. In order to offer a vivid picture as to how perceptions and attitudes have (or have not) changed towards HIV/AIDS since its discovery 30 years ago, I turned to several experts on the subject of public health and safety and legal experts who work directly in the field of HIV Criminalization.
One such expert is Ms. Catherine Hansenns, Executive Director and Founder of The Center for HIV Law and Policy. It was through my conversations with her and the information provided on her website that I began to see the true threat caused by the stigmatization and permeated ignorance of which we treat the subject of HIV.
HIV statutes and prosecutions contradict and, therefore, undermine public health goals by, basically, scaring people into refusal of testing. On one hand, you have both federal and state public health officials urging the public to get tested and to know their HIV status; on the other hand, there are laws who punish those who have taken the step to get tested and who have been diagnosed as positive. Says Ms. Hansenns
“The government has taken the position through its laws that people with HIV are so dangerous and so toxic that we need to develop special laws in which to punish and control them.”
Arrest records show people criminalized by this process have faced charges ranging from assault and aggravated assault to depraved indifference and a host of fines with lengthy prison sentences. In the case of Nushawn Williams, former mayor Rudy Guiliani pushed to prosecute him for attempted murder (this charge didn’t stand up in court).
According to Ms. Hansenns, once someone is convicted of HIV criminal laws and statutes, you are subject to involuntary commitment past the length of your sentence if you are considered to be a menace and threat to public health. More and more, involuntary civil commitments are being used against people with HIV. In addition to this, registration with the National Sex Offenders Registry database is also a strong likelihood which would lead to future employment, rental and home ownership and privacy issues.