Georgia’s HIV criminal laws undermine public health efforts

Georgia’s HIV criminal laws may undermine the state’s public health efforts by deterring people from seeking HIV testing and treatment, stigmatizing those with HIV, and disproportionately affecting the communities most impacted by HIV, including people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and the formerly incarcerated, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or that increase the penalties for illegal conduct based upon a person’s HIV-positive status. Georgia has HIV-specific criminal laws that criminalize seven specific types of behaviors.

Using data from the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, researchers found that from 1988 through September 2017, there were 74 convictions under Georgia’s HIV criminal laws—approximately two to three convictions per year.

None of the convictions required intent to transmit HIV as an element of the crime, and none required proof of actual transmission of HIV.

“Georgia’s HIV criminal laws were passed at a time when little was known about HIV and there was widespread fear of the disease,” said lead author Brad Sears, the David Sanders Distinguished Scholar of Law and Policy at the Williams Institute. “These laws don’t take into account medical advances that can dramatically reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting HIV. What’s more, research has shown that they negatively impact the populations that Georgia is trying to engage to combat HIV.”

This research was generously funded by a grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Read the report

March 5, 2020

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