As a policy fellow with the Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-US) we seek to create a world where women living with HIV can live dignified lives free from stigma. Reforms of Georgia’s HIV criminalization laws is the most important step.
Georgia still has Draconian criminalization laws that make it a felony for an HIV-positive person to knowingly engage in sexual acts.
At a recent meeting, the Georgia Coalition To End Criminalization listed 10 unintended consequences and reasons Georgia’s HIV criminalization laws must be modernized:
1. HIV criminalization laws create a false sense of security among Georgians that the law will protect them from HIV.
2. With HIV status disclosure, the burden of proof is on the accused person.
3. HIV criminalization may deter people from getting tested for HIV.
4. These laws may deter people living with HIV from seeking medical care.
5. HIV criminalization magnifies HIV stigma, which itself is deadly.
6. The science behind Georgia’s HIV laws is outdated.
7. These laws do not require intent to harm, exposure to HIV, or HIV transmission for prosecution to occur.
8. Disclosure of HIV status can be dangerous.
9. These laws further burden already vulnerable Georgians.
10. Georgia’s law is a legal hammer that singles out people living with HIV.
My training as a PWN-USA Policy Fellow on Effective Coalition Building & Building Relationship with Policymakers and Key Stakeholders came in handy on October 17, 2017 when I joined with GCTEC at a Study Committee public meeting hosted by the Georgia House of Representatives at Georgia’s State Capital. Legislators on the study committee heard expert testimony on issues related to HIV, with a focus on HIV criminalization as a barrier to HIV prevention and care. This meeting was one of several meeting opportunities for legislators to learn about the complexities of HIV criminalization and its impact on HIV prevention, treatment.
During this meeting, State Representative Betty Price, the wife of former Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price made appalling comments, especially her inquiry whether there are any laws on the books that allow the state of Georgia to quarantining people living with HIV.
You can watch the video of the public meeting here on Project Q Atlanta magazine, which broke the story.
A letter by Devin Barrington-Ward of Impulse Group, has drafted a petition on behalf of the over 47,000 Georgians living with HIV has called for her resignation.
The Georgia Coalition's post card project features Georgian citizens living with HIV intends to put a human face on the issue and being mailed to Georgia's elected officials on the committee studying HIV criminalization's laws.
My quote reads “I’m not armed or dangerous. I RESIST the unjust criminalization of people living with HIV who know their HIV status and are proactively taking action to not transmit HIV to others!”
There is no evidence that these laws encourage people to disclose their HIV status. My anecdotal survey of spoken statements from people living with HIV, is unanimous in revealing that these laws do nothing to compel them to share their status because of the stigma and fear of arrest.
What’s needed are sensible laws that promote education of where treatment for the disease is in 2017.
For updates on the meeting, the Coalition’s work, and to share ways in which you can contribute to the HIV criminalization reform movement register here.