Women and Black people overrepresented in HIV-criminal arrests in Ohio

Since 2000, there have been at least 530 allegations of an HIV-related crime in Ohio, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The state’s HIV-related criminal laws are disproportionately enforced based on gender and race, with women and Black people the most affected.

Women are 21% of people living with HIV (PLWH) in Ohio but nearly half (48%) of all HIV-related arrests in the state.

The HIV epidemic and Ohio’s HIV-related criminal laws disproportionately impact Black people, as well. Black people make up 13% of Ohio’s population. However, they account for 44% of PLWH and 44% of HIV-related arrests.

Ohio has six laws that criminalize the conduct of PLWH. All of Ohio’s HIV crimes carry felony penalties, and none requires actual transmission, the intent to transmit, or even conduct that can transmit HIV.

Researchers examined the history of HIV criminalization in Ohio, which reveals that the laws have not been updated in decades. They also analyzed key trends in the enforcement of the state’s HIV-related criminal laws between 2000 and 2022 using data from the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System (OIBRS) and HIV-related criminal court cases.

Results find that the enforcement of HIV crimes in Ohio is geographically concentrated. Four counties—Cuyahoga, Franklin, Montgomery, and Summit—account for over two-thirds (68%) of all alleged HIV-related criminal incidents. These four counties are home to just over half (53%) of all PLWH in Ohio.

“HIV criminalization is not only a criminal justice issue. As public health agencies in the state have argued, it is a barrier to promoting public health and ending the HIV epidemic in Ohio,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Director at the Williams Institute. “HIV criminal laws perpetuate stigma against people living with HIV and can discourage testing and treatment.”

Key Findings

  • Nearly half (48%) of the 530 HIV-related arrests in Ohio were for allegations of consensual sex without disclosing an HIV-positive status, followed by exposure to bodily fluids (21%) and sex work (19%).
  • For sex work-related crimes, 84% of those arrested were women.
  • White people comprised about two-thirds (67%) of arrests for sex work and exposure to bodily fluids. Black people accounted for about two-thirds (65%) of felonious assault arrests.
    • 61% of sex work-related arrests were of white women.
    • 67% of harassment by bodily fluid arrests were of white men.
    • 58% of felonious assault arrests were of Black men.
  • All loitering and solicitation incidents, all blood donation incidents, and all but one prostitution incident were reported as crimes against society, meaning there was no actual person identified as a victim.

Today, the Equality Ohio Education Fund and the Ohio Health Modernization Movement released a separate report on the prosecution of HIV-related criminal laws in Ohio between 2014 and 2020. While different in scope, their report similarly shows a disproportionate impact of HIV criminalization on women and Black Ohioans and a high concentration of enforcement in Cuyahoga County.

HIV criminalization is a term used to describe laws that either criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase the penalties for illegal conduct based on a person’s HIV-positive status. More than half of U.S. states and territories have HIV-specific criminal laws. However, since 2017, 10 states have undertaken modernization or repeal.

Read the report

February 28, 2024

Media Contact: Rachel Dowd
Office: 310-206-8982

Next Press Release

HIV criminal laws disproportionately impact Black men in Mississippi

At least 43 people in Mississippi were arrested for HIV-related crimes between 2004 and 2021

February 22, 2024
Read More