What is C2EA and what do we do?

The Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) is a diverse, exciting coalition of people living with HIV & AIDS, their advocates and their loved ones. Together, we're demanding that our leaders exert the political will to stop the epidemic, in the U.S. and abroad, once and for all.

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Written by Susan Mull

TheBody.com has a collection of poetry that’s inspiring. I was struck by these words by Jim S.: “because there are 36 states/that criminalize HIV/even if you disclose/it’s their word against yours/and a looming prison sentence.” The Iowa Code 709C offers this summary: A person commits criminal transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus if the person, knowing that his or her HIV status is positive, engages in intimate contact with another person. Exposing someone to HIV, whether or not the virus is transmitted, is a class “B” felony with up to 25 years in prison. There is already a statute in Iowa-139A.20 that already includes HIV. Singling out HIV in 709C stigmatizes this disease needlessly.

The Community HIV & Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network, or CHAIN, are working to modernize Iowa’s Code 709C. Tami Haught is CHAIN’s community organizer and is known to many of us as one of our “sheroes.” Tami has been living with HIV for more than 20 years and is leading the statewide advocacy effort. She states, “This is an effort to modernize Iowa’s code-where public health professionals, people with HIV, the LGBT community and others are on the same page. Passage of our reforms are a win-win for public health, for people with HIV, and for Iowa tax payers. The time to reform is now.” Tami shared her incredible advocacy skills with us in the fall of 2011 as many of us met through the Treatment Action Group and converged on Capitol Hill. By that time the National AIDS Strategy had been introduced and written into that strategy are words that are emphatic as they ask state legislators to reconsider criminalization laws. Those specific laws serve as barriers to public health prevention goals and interfere with public health strategies to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

The Positive Justice Project asks us all to become familiar with the following questions and answers:

1) Who is getting arrested? Most charges appear to happen because of bad break-ups and the HIV-negative person is making the charges even when condoms are used and no HIV is transmitted. Prosecutions have also occurred because police have accused people in their custody of biting, spitting, or throwing bodily fluids, such as urine at them! HIV is impossible in those cases! People have received long prison sentences for supposedly exposing someone with HIV.

2) Are people getting sentenced? In many states people are sentenced to more time for having consensual sex while HIV positive, even when HIV is not transmitted or a condom is used, than for killing someone with an automobile! Sentences of three to ten years are common and some people get twenty to thirty years!

3) How do these laws affect women of color? In the U.S. many women living with HIV are lower income, women of color. Many are already dealing with discrimination and stigma. Applying criminal law to HIV nondisclosure or exposure in consensual relationships doesn’t do anything to end the social inequalities that make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV, such as gender-based violence. These laws can increase a woman’s risk of violence and abuse. Women know they may face domestic violence for disclosing their status. A person is only subject to HIV criminalization laws and prosecution if she or he knows her/his HIV positive status. Women are often the first in a family to know because they are regularly offered testing in family planning and pre-natal care clinics. The first person to test positive in a family is almost always treated as the person who brought the infection into the home, even if the husband knows he brought HIV into the home! This belief opens the door for men bringing charges against their female partners for allegedly exposing them to HIV.

4) How are some state health departments involved? In some states, the state health departments require people who test positive to sign forms that say the person will be guilty of a felony if they ever have unprotected sex, or that they cannot get pregnant. Using the law in this way violates the right of all women to conceive and give birth to children.

The Campaign to End AIDS cannot succeed while such laws exist. Research shows that HIV-infected people become less willing to get tested (i.e., you cannot be charged if you do not know your status) and less willing to disclose their status because of fear of prosecution and prejudice. Catherine Hanssens, the Executive Director of the Center For HIV Law and Policy states, “It is difficult to see how we can effectively encourage early diagnosis and treatment, and prevent new cases of HIV while we have government policies and laws that single out HIV for punitive treatment.” Tami Haught is tireless in her efforts to modernize Iowa’s Code 790C. We will end AIDS and its incumbent stigma. Until there is a cure, people like Tami will be marching in Washington, D.C. or speaking to legislators in Des Moines, Iowa. She may not don the apparel of Wonder Woman, but she is saving lives and making the world a more just place.

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