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Written by Sunny Bjerk

Despite the growing consensus that HIV criminalization statues are detrimental to public health by deterring testing and lessening vigilance to protected sex, Arizona is currently considering such a bill.

Introduced by House Representative Lela Alston—a Democrat—the bill (HB 2218) would make it an AZ Class 6 felony for anyone who knows they are HIV positive to knowingly expose another to the virus through sex (the actual bill also explicitly names “sodomy”), sharing needles, or tissue donation. The bill would also criminalize the transmission of other STIs including chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, and more. Under AZ state law, Class 6 felonies are punishable up to one year in a state facility.

According to Alston’s (not) feel good narrative behind the bill, she authored the bill after hearing about a woman who contracted an STD from her boyfriend. (The article does not name the STD or if it was HIV, but according to the bill’s provisions, if it was crabs she wouldn’t be protected, so, it probably wasn’t crabs).

Alston claimed that the boyfriend’s failure to disclose was criminal. “‘This guy didn’t tell her he was infected so that she could protect herself,” she said.

Of course, Alston’s limited perspective presents transmission as a linear, one-way street, and fails to consider the responsibilities of both parties to prevent the transmission of any disease or virus.
In other words, what responsibility does this woman have to herself to make sure that she is doing all she can to protect herself? What responsibility does she have to herself to make sure she tells her partner that she won’t have unprotected sex until both are tested for STDs and HIV?

While going to get tested together is probably not the sexiest Saturday night you might have, it is sure the smartest and safest Saturday night you’ll have.

Arizona’s pending criminalization law, as well as the others across the country, are archaic and ineffective laws that stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS (and in AZ, anyone with an STD) and paint them as criminals—felons, in fact—while fallaciously exonerating the other party from any personal responsibility to protect themselves in each and every situation.

Certainly, while we should reject the knowing transmission of any STDs to another person, these criminalization bills hamper public health, HIV and STD testing, and create a false sense of protection and scope of responsibility.

We must continue to reject and challenge these villainizing laws.

The AZ bill is expected to be heard next Thursday. Stay tuned for updates.

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