Hiding one’s HIV status might be wrong, but it shouldn’t be a crime

By Josh Kruger
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Jan. 22, 2014

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In October, a college student in Missouri was charged with “exposing sexual partners to HIV.” As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and various national news media recently reported, 22-year-old Michael Johnson allegedly engaged in sex acts in his dorm room with more than 30 individuals who may not have known of his HIV+ status—and, further, may have videotaped the encounters without his partners’ consent.

Naturally, everyone under the sun is ready to condemn this young man and trot him out into the public square for a hanging. Not so much for the videos, which, if they were in fact made without consent, represent a betrayal of trust—but for the much larger issue that, of course, people with HIV should be required by law to tell their sexual partners, right?

Well—no, actually. They should not.

Let’s break that down slightly. Should they tell them? Of course. Should they be required to? No.

HIV criminalization is the idea that HIV-positive individuals should be held to a higher legal standard than HIV-negative individuals. Based on the fact that HIV is a serious medical condition that, if left untreated, will kill the vast majority of those infected, 34 states in the U.S. have enacted laws by which engaging in certain sexual activities—including consensual sex—while being HIV-positive can constitute or aggravate a criminal offense. A great many of these statutes came about during the ’90s, when referring to AIDS as a “death sentence” was common—first as an awareness tactic, then as a cliché. And, you know, these kinds of laws seem to make intuitive sense as a way of stemming HIV’s spread. They feel right.

But they aren’t.

Let’s look at one of those specific laws here at home. According to the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania: “In Pennsylvania, prostitution is a misdemeanor unless one of the parties knows he or she is HIV-positive [in which case it is a felony]… Actual HIV transmission is not required for prosecution under this statute. This statute does not differentiate between acts that carry a risk of HIV transmission and those that do not. The use of condoms or other protection is not a defense.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Here in Pennsylvania, even if you use a condom, even if you are on antiretroviral therapy—which, for the record, when used together with condoms, reduces the risk of HIV transmission close to zero—and even if you do not transmit HIV to anyone, you can serve up to seven years in state prison for conducting sex work while being HIV-positive. Regardless of consent, risk or outcome, the mere fact that you are HIV-positive aggravates this offense.

That’s discrimination, plain and simple.

We have two sets of laws, one for the HIV-negative and one for the HIV-positive, and we as a society are perfectly okay with this situation simply because HIV scares people. We are okay with it because it’s much easier to place blame on the HIV-positive than it is for some folks to come to grips with their own culpability for their own behavior.

And, because the 20,000 individuals in Philadelphia living with HIV/AIDS, including myself, scare a good number of people, we ourselves are supposed to be okay with our legal rights being relegated to second class.

It’s not okay.

Sure, it’s much easier to pass the buck. It’s much easier to blame others, to evade responsibility for one’s own possibly unseemly actions—like, for instance, hooking up with someone you’ve only met on Facebook, whose pictures are hot. You might be so aroused during such an encounter that you’d not want to bother with condoms. And you might well regret the situation after the fact—might feel ashamed that you got caught up in the moment and didn’t use a condom. Later, you might take an HIV test and realize you’re HIV-positive—likely because of that encounter you had, though if you’re sexually active with other people, too, it can be hard to turn that probability into a certainty.

None of that is fair. It isn’t nice, and it certainly doesn’t make anyone feel good.

The fact remains, though, that life isn’t fair. And the other fact remains that we are all responsible for our own choice of sexual partners.

There are unconscionable assholes like Michael Johnson in the world. There are a lot of them. Being an asshole, however, is not illegal. Nor should it be.

Last time I checked, targeting a group of individuals for something they cannot control—that is, a medical condition that, however they acquired it, they cannot stop having—is discrimination.

We as a society can do much better. Making laws that just sound right and make us feel better—well, that’s a rather cavalier way to handle whether or not people deserve to lose some of their freedoms.

Individuals have the tools to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS. We have condoms; we have HIV-positive individuals on medications that nearly eradicate all possibility of transmission; we have medicines that can help protect HIV-negative individuals from acquiring HIV, too. The fact that some folks don’t ask the right questions—or, rather, that some folks don’t understand that their number-one responsibility is to protect themselves and act accordingly—doesn’t make that failure anyone else’s responsibility.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. HighStrungLoner said... on Jan 22, 2014 at 01:12PM

“If you want to know what Josh really thinks about HIV, then read www highstrungloner dot com. That is, when he's not slamming meth. Get help Josh, everyone is talking about your drug addiction. Who have you stolen money from today to pay for your meth habit? It's sad when I see you in the cafe begging for money, then sitting in front of your beat up laptop tweaking up a storm. Everyone knows you're a drug addict Josh. Get help.”

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2. Elaine said... on Jan 22, 2014 at 02:42PM

“We just had someone convicted for exposing/infecting a partner(s) here in GA, EVEN though the sex was consensual. The partners claimed he did not inform them of his HIV status. Don't partners have any culpability in exposing themselves & not demanding protection or testing BEFORE jumping into bed with someone? This will definitely discourage people from getting tested. Meanwhile, the convicted person claimed he wasn't HIV positive, the test results are not valid, etc, even though the tests were well documented by the agency(ies) who performed them. He knew he was doing wrong, morally, so perhaps, he also should have culpability in not being forthcoming about having HIV (and ultimately, AIDS). There's no easy solution for this other than people who intend to have sex may need to abstain until they get to know their partner and get tested together. There's no excuse for adults to have to rush into sex with ANYONE, not with what we know today about STDs, including HIV.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2014 at 04:56PM

“"....when used together with condoms, reduces the risk of HIV transmission close to zero..."
CLOSE to ZERO is NOT ZERO.. OK, I'm going to hold a gun on you everyday of your life and pull the trigger, You may or may not get killed.... It's NOT cool IF YOU KNOW- YOU TELL.... Don't try to KILL me with something that has NO cure. I try to protect myself as much as possible but to rationilize it as "discrimination" if YOU are being irresponsible.... Sound slike you are infected and don't want to be responsible AND go to jail. Get some mental health counseling....”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2014 at 06:50PM

“i'm negative my ex was pozitive and he had similar views, that's why he is my ex now!”

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5. OrwellIsDead said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 12:50AM

“Go take your meds and shut your stupid meth addicted mouth.”

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6. Who cares what a drug addict thinks? said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 01:52AM

“Or better yet, Josh, slam some more meth and don't take your meds. Repeatedly.”

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7. JoshinChi said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 02:19AM

“Drug addict or not, he is spot on. Laws like this only lead to fear, shame, and more infections. When we confront HIV and talk about it, people get tested and in treatment (in other words, they dont infect others). Also, readers should do some research before posting - most people in the US w/ HIV wont ever get AIDS. This isnt 1995, acquiring HIV probably wont KILL YOU - youreore likely to die a regular old way - heart attack, cancer, etc. Condoms work, as do meds. These laws are as bad, if not worse, than marriage inequality. Its a shame that more within the LGBT community can't see that, let alone the rest of us.”

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8. countypa said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 10:01AM

“This is a joke in the adult book stores where men have sex with other men that don't know one another they should be liable for their acts...and the owner of these business should be prosecuted for letting this to go on...They make lots of money from these sex acts..... Are family are at risk... (dirtandmoredirt com)”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 10:07AM

“Wow. This doesn't even dignify a comment because it's so ridiculous. It's like, "Oh, I didn't tell you there's a bomb in my house that may go off any minute because you didn't ask."
Ridiculous.
Putting someone's life at risk is never okay just because you want to have sex.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 01:21PM

“It's really funny, you know. You don't get into a car with someone who doesn't have a license. You don't go to a doctor who you know has committed malpractice or (god forbid) "accidentally" killed someone. All of these acts are considered crimes by the government. Maybe we should just make penis licenses too, since people don't feel the need to be responsible.”

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11. ej said... on Jan 23, 2014 at 04:34PM

“Seriously, stop the hate and the ignorant remarks. The criminalization of HIV is wrong. And these comments don't reflect on Josh, but on the childlessness of the people making them. You lose credibility with name calling and accusations. Thanks for the great article Josh ... The rest of you, grow up. ... J.”

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12. Tomas Brewster said... on Jan 24, 2014 at 09:10AM

“Most people on the planet, Including scientists, doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, lawyers, police officers, journalists, news anchors, self titled "AIDS Activists", so called "HIV" A ID S patients and their loved ones are not aware or alert to the fact that HIV testing cannot detect "HIV" itself.

The test kits currently on the market that are being used to diagnose alleged "HIV infection" only rely on surrogate markers such as antibodies or genetic material, a study should exist somewhere in the published medical literature which shows that at least one type of surrogate test for HIV has been validated for accuracy by the direct isolation of HIV itself from people who test antibody, RNA or DNA positive.

A study that validates HIV test kits is missing from the vast medical literature and It has been 30 years since the alleged discovery of HIV and the development and marketing of the HIV antibody test kits, yet it appears that no study ever validated HIV tests by the direct purification and isolation of HIV from persons who test positive or have a "viral load."

The accuracy of the HIV antibody tests used around the world to say someone is infected with HIV has never been properly established, and there's no information in the published medical literature showing how many positive tests occur in the absence of infection with HTLVIII/LAV , now referred to as HIV.

The accuracy of an antibody or other surrogate test for a virus can only be established by verifying that positive results are found exclusively in people who actually have the virus. This standard for determining accuracy was not met in 1984 when the first HIV antibody test was developed.

To this day, positive HIV antibody screening tests (ELISAs) are verified by a second antibody test of unknown accuracy (HIV Western Blots) or by "viral load," another unvalidated test that detects bits of genetic material (RNA or DNA) that are thought to be associated with the virus.

A validation study would prove the ethical and scientific basis for the practice of telling people who test antibody, DNA , or RNA positive that they are infected with "HIV". Without evidence of validation by direct purification of the virus, a diagnosis of HIV infection rests on unverified beliefs and unfounded assumptions.

Current HIV tests signal the presence of antibodies that react with an assortment of proteins associated with HIV, however, none of these proteins are unique or specific to HIV.

Without a validation study, no honest, well-informed doctor can say with any degree of certainty that someone who tests positive is indeed infected with HIV. "viral load" tests cannot be used to validate HIV antibody tests because viral load tests are not able to directly detect HIV itself. Instead, these tests detect only fragments of genetic material (DNA or RNA) associated with HIV.

Without validation by direct isolation of the virus from the fresh, uncultured fluids or tissues of people who test positive, HIV/AIDS experts cannot know what positive and negative test results actually indicate.

There appears to be no published (peer reviewed) data establishing the accuracy of HIV tests is particularly concerning given that people who test positive are said to be infected with a fatal, incurable virus and treated as if this were an indisputable truth.

Searching the vast published medical literature, there appears to be no evidence showing that popular interpretations of the significance or "accuracy" of HIV test kits are scientifically valid or correct.

Although the Food and Drug Adminstration has (approved) Donor Screening Assays for the alleged virus, "HIV" the question still remains, Approved For What? and Why to this day is there still no Gold Standard. At the FDA page there is a list of assays..
"Complete List of Donor Screening Assays for Infectious Agents and HIV Diagnostic Assays"

Click on each antibody test kit for "HIV Tests" and review the Intended Use and the Limitations of the Test .

http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/ApprovedProducts/LicensedProductsBLAs/BloodDonorScreening/InfectiousDisease/UCM080466

FDA (approved) HIV antibody Test Kits: http://www.omsj.org/tests/Tests%20Only%20Online.pdf

Concerns about HIV/AIDS Testing and Measurement: http://rethinkingaids.com/quotes/test-rapid.html

*HIV Tests 101* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OajiyoWmKiE&context=C31eebb3ADOEgsToPDskJLkx1uu7DjG0g7aWhl5ZU9


HIV Test Kits are a potential for Iatrogenic harm and death. Mass Genocide.”

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13. Helen Helper said... on Jan 27, 2014 at 05:43PM

“Here we go again, Miss Meth JOSH droning on and on about the same old topic. It's simply tiresome and offensive. Josh is the guest who never leaves, who thinks he's so enthralling people would jump at the chance to "banter" with him. That simply isn't the case, Josh. People avoid you like the plague...how ironic is that? They avoid you like the plague you ramble on and on about. They avoid you like AIDS. You bring nothing new to the conversation, we've spoken about this....Please take a hint. I'm not rich like Shia LeBoufe, I cannot afford to skywrite this...
SOOOOO...SIT YOUR FAT ASS DOWN AND SHUUUUUT UP! ps: get help”

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14. Anonymous said... on Jan 28, 2014 at 03:20PM

“Wow, how tragically sad that people like this ^^^ take actual minutes from their lives to harass someone just trying to make a living informing others in the Philadelphia community. I don't know this writer, but his columns so far have been damn pretty insightful, whether I agree with him or not. You people with the hatemongering, though, really look silly, small and hateful. Please keep up the provocative work, Mr. Kruger, and please keep giving your detractors your "fat ass" to kiss.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Feb 25, 2014 at 10:07AM

““Simply put, Josh Kruger scares the hell out of me. He lies about himself, he spreads life-damaging rumors/falsehoods about others and HIV (see above), and he needs help desperately for his untreated methamphetamine addiction, which I believe is the source of his inability to think truthfully before he writes and speaks. All of that adds up to a plausible inability to believe fully in any of his tales of woe. Journalistically, he's inaccurate and egotistical. He should not be writing for any publication until he gets honest. Good luck Mr. Kruger. I hope that you make it. Everyone deserves happiness.”

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16. elizbethlawson said... on Jul 27, 2014 at 08:26PM

“(My Name is Elizbeth Lawson from united states ...HIV has been ongoing in my family for long..I lost both parents to HIV and it is so much pain has not been able to get over. As we all know medically, there is no solution or cure for HIV and the cost for Medication is very expensive. Someone introduced me to a man (Native Medical Practitioner). I showed the man all my Tests and Results and I told him have already diagnosed with HIV and have spent thousands of dollars on medication. I said I will like to try him cause someone introduced me to him. He asked me sorts of questions and I answered him correctly. To cut the story short, He prepared some herbal medicine for me and he thought me how am going to use them all. At first I was skeptical but I just gave it a try. I was on his Medication for 3 days and I used herbal medicine according to his prescription. That he will finish the rest himself. And I called him 3 days after, I arrived and I told him what is the next thing he said, he has been expecting my call. He told me to visit my doctor for another test. Honestly speaking, i never believe all he was saying until after the test when my doctor mention the statement that am, HIV negative and the doctor started asking me how do I do it....Am telling this story in case anyone may need this man’s help. He is the Great Dr EFE here is via email address drefesolutiontemple@gmail.com
Thanks Regard...”