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Conflicting Messages: How Criminal HIV Disclosure Laws Undermine Public Health Efforts to Control the Spread of HIV

Abstract

Twenty-three U.S. states currently have laws that make it a crime for persons who have HIV to engage in various sexual behaviors without, in most cases, disclosing their HIV-positive status to prospective sex partners. As structural interventions aimed at reducing new HIV infections, the laws ideally should complement the HIV prevention efforts of public health professionals. Unfortunately, they do not. This article demonstrates how HIV disclosure laws disregard or discount the effectiveness of universal precautions and safer sex, criminalize activities that are central to harm reduction efforts, and offer, as an implicit alternative to risk reduction and safer sex, a disclosure-based HIV transmission prevention strategy that undermines public health efforts. The article also describes how criminal HIV disclosure laws may work against the efforts of public health leaders to reduce stigmatizing attitudes toward persons living with HIV.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grants R21-MH073495, K02-MH01919, and P30-MH52776 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors thank Ralph Resenhoeft for his assistance.

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Correspondence to Carol L. Galletly.

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Galletly, C.L., Pinkerton, S.D. Conflicting Messages: How Criminal HIV Disclosure Laws Undermine Public Health Efforts to Control the Spread of HIV. AIDS Behav 10, 451–461 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-006-9117-3

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Keywords

  • HIV prevention
  • HIV disclosure
  • Criminal law
  • Public health