What is HIV Criminalization


 What Does It Mean For Black People?

By Gerald Garth of The Black AIDS Institute


Statistics consistently show that Black communities are more disproportionately impacted by HIV.  Along with higher rates of transmission, statistics also show higher of HIV criminalization among Black people.  HIV criminalization refers to the use of criminal law to penalize alleged, perceived or potential HIV exposure, including acts that do not risk HIV transmission, such as spitting; or nonintentional HIV transmission.

The Williams Institute report, entitled “HIV Criminalization In California: Penal Implications for People Living With HIV/AIDS,” looked at how criminal laws are used to target people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).

According to the Center for HIV Law & Policy, 32 states, 2 territories and the federal government have HIV-specific laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure through sex, spit, blood and/or biting, as well as HIV-specific statutes that make it a crime for PLWHA to engage in sexual activity without disclosing their status to their partners.

Researchers found that while White men made up 40 percent of the people diagnosed with HIV in California, only 16 percent of them had had contact with the criminal-justice system related to their HIV status. Black men made up 16 percent of PLWHA but 19 percent of those who had contact with the criminal-justice system.

Black women made up only 4 percent of the population of PLWHA, yet an astounding 21 percent of them had come into contact with the criminal-justice system. Researchers say that more work needs to be done to identify what is driving the racial and gender disparities.

While the results of the Williams Institute study are limited to California, scientists say the cases analyzed represent the vast majority of cases brought under HIV exposure and nondisclosure laws in the United States.

Many of these people are Black and some have questioned whether racial bias is adding another layer of unfairness to the enforcement of laws that are already discriminatory, outdated and counterproductive.  Because HIV is associated with anal intercourse, gay men, African Americans and injection drug users , racism, homophobia and sexophobia are inseparably linked with HIV-related stigma, discrimination and criminalization.

There must also be more education and conversation around reforming and dismantling HIV criminalization laws.  Implementation of a strategy to challenge and defeat this stigma directly, in partnership with organizations combating HIV/AIDS, racism, homophobia and sexism, as well as those fighting to protect sexual freedoms, is critically needed and long overdue.

For more information or for ways you can address HIV Criminalization, visit


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