|Photo credit: Queerocracy|
Tomorrow, Thursday October 25th, the Sero Project, a human rights organisation comprised of people living with HIV who seek to end inappropriate criminal prosecutions for HIV non-disclosure or for potential or perceived HIV exposure or transmission, will present new data to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) showing the harm of HIV criminalisation.
Preliminary data from the Sero Project’s national criminalisation survey were presented at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. last July. Among the latest survey findings to be released on Thursday:
Notes Sero’s executive director, Sean Strub: "We need stronger leadership from PACHA and the federal government to stop the creation of a viral underclass in the law. Most efforts to combat stigma and discrimination are long and arduous and take many years; but by repealing HIV criminalisation statutes, government can take a big step all at once. We need our federal government’s effort to reflect the urgency the criminalisation crisis requires."
In addition, five survivors of HIV criminalisation prosecutions from around the United States will speak to the panel, as well as the mother and sister of a sixth person prosecuted. "We believe this is the first time any official forum of the federal government has heard directly from a group of people with HIV who have been criminalised," says Strub. "They are helping to make history and Sero is proud to have brought them to Washington for this important meeting."
The entire Sero Project press release is republished below.
NEW DATA ON HARM OF HIV CRIMINALIZATION TO BE PRESENTED
SURVIVORS OF CRIMINALIZATION PROSECUTIONS TO SPEAK
TO PRESIDENTIAL AIDS COUNCIL
WHAT: On Thursday, October 25, at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center (775 12th St NW), The Sero Project, a human rights organization comprised of people with HIV who seek to end inappropriate criminal prosecutions of people living with HIV (PLHIV) for non-disclosure of their HIV status or for potential or perceived HIV exposure or transmission, will present to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).
Sero will reveal highlights of findings from their survey of over 2,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) and 800 people from affected communities in the U.S., illustrating how the impact of HIV criminalization drives stigma, discourages HIV testing, disclosure and access to treatment, and disproportionately impacts young people, as well as gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) of color. At the PACHA meeting, Sero will screen HIV Is Not a Crimea short film about the harm criminalization does to PLHIV and HIV prevention.
Five survivors of HIV criminalization prosecutions from around the country (Louisiana, South Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa, and Washington) will speak to the panel, as well as the mother and sister of a sixth person prosecuted. Those charged faced prosecution, incarceration, and/or required sex offender registration for not disclosing their HIV positive status to a partner. None were accused of transmitting HIV.
Sero’s survey was conducted under the direction of principal investigator Laurel Sprague, with the oversight of the institutional review board (IRB) at Eastern Michigan University. Sprague is the regional coordinator for the North American chapter of the Global Network of People with HIV and Sero’s research director, and has herself lived with HIV for more than 20 years.
Sero’s survey shows a profoundly disabling legal environment for people with HIV in the U.S., with many PLHIV uncertain about what is required of them in terms of disclosure and uncertain what behaviors put them at risk of arrest. Many PLHIV and members of affected communities believe that fear of prosecution makes it reasonable for people to refuse to get tested for HIV, disclose their status or access treatment. Nearly a quarter report knowing one or more people who told them that they did not want to get tested for fear of being criminalized.
Among the survey findings to be released on Thursday:
● 46 percent of respondents reported that they were not clear about what is required under state laws to protect themselves from prosecution. Another 32 percent were only somewhat clear about the legal requirements.
● 59 percent of young gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) of color reported that they were not clear about what behaviors related to HIV-positive status put them at risk for arrest, compared to 48 percent of all other men.
● Despite the fact that female respondents were the most likely to indicate complete clarity, only slightly more than 1 in 4 women (26%) said they felt completely clear about what behaviors put them at risk for arrest.
● 49 percent of male respondents, 46 percent of female respondents, and over 57 percent of transgender respondents said that it was “very” or “somewhat” reasonable for people to refuse to take an HIV test for fear of prosecution resulting from a positive test.
● 42 percent of male and female respondents, and 47 percent of transgender respondents, said that it was “very” or “somewhat” reasonable for PLHIV to refuse treatment for fear of prosecution resulting from others discovering their HIV status.
● A full 24 percent of respondents reported knowing at least one person who declined to take an HIV test for fear of prosecution.
● 10 percent of young gay, bisexual, or other MSM living with HIV, and 13 percent of transgender PLHIV, said that they might advise someone to avoid HIV testing because of the possibility of prosecution.
Sean Strub, Sero’s executive director, said: "We need stronger leadership from PACHA and the federal government to stop the creation of a viral underclass in the law. Most efforts to combat stigma and discrimination are long and arduous and take many years; but by repealing HIV criminalization statutes, government can take a big step all at once. We need our federal government’s effort to reflect the urgency the criminalization crisis requires."
Continued Strub: "We believe this is the first time any official forum of the federal government has heard directly from a group of people with HIV who have been criminalized. They are helping to make history and Sero is proud to have brought them to Washington for this important meeting."
Said Monique Moree, Sero Advisory Board member, director of Monique's Hope for Cure Outreach Service in Holly Hill, SC, and a criminalization survivor: "Criminalization is wrong and it hurts women. A lot of women can't disclose because it invites violence, or because it jeopardizes their housing, employment, family situation or custody of their children. I told my boyfriend he had to use a condom; that's how I said I had HIV. But I got prosecuted anyway.
"Even though the charges were eventually dropped, they made me feel like a criminal even though I knew I wasn't. We are treated like monsters instead of human beings. If someone maliciously and intentionally harms someone else, then there should be consequences, but those circumstances are rare and to put everyone with HIV who can't prove they disclosed in the same category is wrong. HIV criminalization needs to change."
Said Laurel Sprague, Sero’s Research Director: “There is a clear mismatch between the intention to reduce HIV transmission and deaths and the laws that criminalize HIV non-disclosure or exposure. Instead of working to create a social and legal environment within which people can safely disclose, the laws make people living with HIV deeply vulnerable to violations by the legal system and by partners or former partners. The laws send a message that people living with HIV cannot be trusted to make the right decisions about disclosure on their own and that legal coercion is required. Yet the responses given by people living with HIV to describe their motivations for disclosing their status to a partner indicate that they choose to disclose for fundamentally moral reasons, not because of the existence of the law.”
October 25, 2012
9:30 to 5:00 pm
Late morning (TBD): Screening of HIV is Not a Crime late morning
3:30 PM: HIV criminalization survivors to speak
Meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA)
775 12th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Sean Strub, Executive Director and founder of Sero. Strub is a writer and long-time activist who has lived with HIV for more than 30 years. He founded POZ Magazine, co-chairs the North American regional affiliate of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+/NA) and co-founded and is a member of the Positive Justice Project. He has been engaged in HIV-related stigma, discrimination, criminalization and empowerment issues since the earliest days of the epidemic.
Laurel Sprague, Research Director of Sero. Laurel Sprague is Sero’s Research Director and works with grassroots and community-based organizations to conduct qualitative and quantitative program evaluation to support participatory, community-based research projects. She has provided technical assistance to local, national, and global organizations and to networks of people living with HIV throughout the US and Canada, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. She teaches in the Department of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University and is a PhD candidate at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Her research focuses on the resiliency and capability of HIV-positive people, particularly when faced with HIV stigma and discrimination, criminalization, human rights abuses. She is the Regional Coordinator for GNP+NA and has lived with HIV for 20+ years.
In addition, the presentation will feature testimony from the following individuals, all of whom have been prosecuted as a result of HIV criminalization, despite not being accused of transmitting HIV:
● Nick Rhoades, an Iowan, used a condom, had an undetectable viral load and was convicted on a non-disclosure charge and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Advocates helped get the judge to reconsider the sentence and he was released after a year, but is subject to lifetime sex offender registration. Lambda Legal Defense is representing him in an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
● Robert Suttle served six months in a Louisiana prison and is required to register as a sex offender for 15 years. He was in a contentious relationship; after it ended, the former partner pressed charges against Robert for not initially disclosing his HIV-positive status. Robert is the assistant director of the Sero Project and has worked as an HIV prevention outreach worker, focused on African American MSM.
● Monique Moree, of South Carolina, was in the Army and pregnant when she found out she was positive. When the Army found out she had a relationship with another soldier, they prosecuted her, despite the other soldier reporting that she told him to use a condom. She faced up to 12 years; although the charges were dropped, Monique had to leave the Army.
● Edward Casto, of Washington State, was born with HIV and was recently released from prison after serving a year and nine-months on an HIV-related charge.
● Mark Hunter and his brother, Michael, were born with hemophilia and acquired HIV as children from blood products. Michael died of AIDS in the early 90s; Mark was prosecuted after he and his fiancee broke up. He served 2 1/2 years in an Arkansas prison. He is represented at the PACHA meeting by his mother, Hazel, and his sister, Faith.
● Donald Bogardus was charged with non-disclosure in Iowa and is presently on a pre-trial release program. He faces up 25 years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration.
About The Sero Project
Sero is a not-for-profit human rights organization comprised of people with HIV who promote the empowerment of people with HIV, combat HIV-related stigma, discrimination and criminalization and advocate for sound public health and HIV prevention policies based on science and epidemiology rather than ignorance and fear.
Sero’s HIV criminalization work includes research, raising awareness and outreach to people with HIV who have been criminalized to create a network of advocates to speak first-hand about the effects of criminalization on their lives. Sero seeks to build a grassroots movement to mobilize the advocacy necessary to end HIV criminalization and promote a human rights-based approach to end the HIV epidemic. Sero is a member of the Positive Justice Project, a national collaboration of activists, professionals and policy leaders combating HIV criminalization, and the HIV Justice Network, a global network of anti-criminalization advocates.
Sero is supported by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the H. van Ameringen Foundation and the Global Forum on MSM & HIV.
For more information, see www.seroproject.com.