From The Grio — Know your status. Know your status. Know your status.
The message comes at us from community organizations, government-sponsored health initiatives, signage at bus terminals and nightclubs, and even more increasingly, from the pulpits of churches. It’s everywhere. And black women are responding and being more empowered about their health because of it. There’s been a significant increase in HIV testing within that group in just the last three years. That’s a good thing — a fantastic thing.
With that awareness, however, comes what some consider unfortunate consequence. In an effort to derail the purposeful transmission of HIV—and there have been an appalling number of such cases—37 states have enacted criminalization laws making the deliberate spread of HIV illegal. In some states, it’s as punishable as carrying a concealed weapon without a license.
In Montana, it’s a misdemeanor to consciously expose another person to any sexually transmitted disease, which basically limits an infected person’s ability to have intercourse at all.
In California, it’s felonious to knowingly have HIV and engage in unprotected sex with the intent to infect, punishable by five to nine years in prison.
Those laws don’t take into consideration her partner’s HIV status. It also doesn’t consider whether the partner knew that the women was HIV-positive but consented anyway.
Being unaware of her status can affect a woman’s health, but being aware and attempting to live a normal life can legally intimidate her and, in the most perverse instances, make her susceptible to blackmail by abusive partners.
What lawmakers initially created as an effort to protect citizens and control the epidemic has become a control mechanism for some black women living with HIV.
“There are some states that have expanded their laws to the point where anyone who is HIV-positive is subject to a broader legal interpretation, and that can jeopardize women’s reproductive rights,” explains Valerie Rochester, director of programs and training for the Black Women’s Health Imperative.