HIV Criminalization and People of Color

By Ayako Miyashita and Amira Hasenbush
February 29, 2016
The Body

In December 2015, we published a paper entitled HIV Criminalization in California: Penal Implications for People Living with HIV/AIDS. Thanks to funding from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, we were able to look at how criminal laws are used to target people with HIV. We were able, for the first time, to analyze statewide data from California to see how California’s laws are being used against people with HIV.

About HIV Criminalization

We commonly refer to HIV criminal laws, and the use of these laws, as HIV criminalization. More than two-thirds of U.S. states and territories have passed HIV criminal laws. The original intent of these laws was to “control the spread of AIDS”. Yet some HIV criminal laws do not require exposure to or transmission of HIV. In some states, these laws criminalize conduct that poses a low or almost nonexistent risk of transmission, such as spitting, biting, or engaging in oral sex. Our study revealed the following:

• 800 people were directly affected by these laws.

• Over 40% of them were women, and two-thirds were Black or Latino.

• They ranged in age from 14 to 71 at the time of their first HIV-related criminal incident, with an average age of 37.

• 95% of 1,263 incidents involved a felony offense for solicitation (prostitution) while HIV positive.

• All but one of the 390 incidents involving a criminal charge resulted in a conviction.

• Black and white women and black men were more likely to be charged than white men.

For the full op-ed, click here.