HIV Stigma, Sexual Disclosure, and the Law

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 6B P (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Bronwen LICHTENSTEIN, University of Alabama, USA
This paper addresses the growing divide between the U.S. public, which largely believes in punishing PLWH for non-disclosure to sexual partners, and the public health sector, which seeks to reform HIV laws in order to destigmatize HIV, promote testing and ART, and reduce HIV infections around the globe. I will begin the talk by describing the impasse between law enforcement and public health actors over effective measures for HIV prevention in the United States. The talk will highlight the case of HB50, an Alabama bill that seeks to increase the penalty for sexual non-disclosure from a misdemeanor crime with a 3-month jail term, to a felony crime with a 10-year prison term and registration as a sex offender. I will describe the origins of the bill in relation to national publicity over church-going African American women in Montgomery, Alabama, who were infected by their pastor in 2015. I will also describe health advocates’ countervailing efforts to stop the bill because of their concerns that harsher penalties would lead to greater stigma and less willingness to be tested for HIV or seek medical care in the AIDS Belt of America. The talk will offer sociological explanations for the increase in HIV criminalization across the United States. These explanations include the lack of awareness about medical advances in HIV care, homophobia in the socially conservative states, conflations between “HIV and murder” in response to high-profile cases about male predators and women victims, and the desire for revenge when ideas about betrayal, immorality, and lethality influence political actions on HIV/AIDS.  I will argue that these actions stand in the way of “A World Without AIDS” if legalized stigma interferes with public health goals for eliminating HIV.