HIV Criminalization is the use of one’s HIV positive status in a criminal prosecution, either under HIV-specific criminal statutes that apply only to people living with HIV, or under general criminal statutes where charges or punishments are initiated or heightened solely because of the person’s HIV positive status. More than 34 states have an HIV-specific criminal law mandating disclosure of one’s HIV positive status prior to engaging in intimate sexual contact. Pennsylvania does not have this type of law. Instead, Pennsylvania uses generally applicable laws to charge people living with HIV for conduct that would not be criminal, except for their HIV status. 

HIV Criminalization undermines efforts to encourage HIV testing and retain people living with HIV in care, and creates distrust of public health officials and programs. Fear of HIV Criminalization may discourage people with HIV from cooperating with traditional sexually transmitted infections (STI) prevention measures, like partner notification and treatment-adherence programs.

Preferred alternatives to initiating criminal proceedings and possible incarceration are restorative justice processes, diversionary programs or civil law suits. These alternatives can be used to provide relief to a person who feels harmed because they think they may have been exposed to or infected by HIV. 

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