HIV Criminalization is a term used to describe laws that criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase penalties for criminal conduct based on a person’s HIV status. Currently, Georgia has seven different types of HIV-specific criminal laws. The laws fall under two separate categories based on the nature of the risk: 1) Reckless Conduct and 2) Assault by a Person Living with HIV. None of the laws require actual transmission of HIV. All of these laws are broad enough to cover conduct that cannot, in fact, lead to transmission of the virus. From 1988, when the reckless conduct statute was passed, and 2003, when the assault with intent statutes were added, through the third quarter of 2017, only 74 people living with HIV had been convicted of these crimes. None of these 74 people were convicted of a crime requiring the intent to transmit HIV.
This report applies what we know today about the transmission and treatment of HIV to the specific types of conduct criminalized by Georgia’s HIV criminal laws. It also considers some ways in which research suggests that HIV criminal laws may undermine efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV. Rather than considering all aspects of these laws, this report focuses on their public health implications, specifically their impact in the prevention and treatment of HIV.
- From 1988 until September 2017, only 74 people living with HIV had been convicted of these crimes; on average 2 to 3 people per year.
- 100% of these convictions required no actual transmission of HIV.
- 100% of these convictions required no intent to transmit the virus.
- 100% were pursuant to statutes that are broad enough to cover conduct that cannot, in fact, lead to the transmission of HIV.
Further, the state’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.
- Some studies suggest that laws criminalizing the conduct of people with HIV (PWH) may create a disincentive for those most at risk for HIV from getting tested, from disclosing their HIV-status to potential partners and health care providers, and from consistently accessing medical care.
- HIV criminal laws further stigmatize Georgians with HIV. Research has shown that when people with HIV experience stigma, they have poorer health outcomes and are less likely to consistently engage in their own medical care and in public health efforts.
- Georgia’s HIV criminal laws impact the very populations that Georgia is trying to engage to combat HIV in the state, including people of color, women, youth, and LGBTQ people. Prior research has shown that HIV-related sex work prosecutions disproportionately impact women and people of color. In addition, youth, transgender people, and other LGBTQ people are disproportionately represented among sex workers. These are precisely the groups that Georgia currently seeks to engage in its statewide strategic plan to combat HIV.
There have been significant medical advances related to HIV since Georgia’s HIV criminal laws were first passed. Modernizing these laws would support Georgia’s current efforts to prevent HIV in the state.