Frequently Asked Questions

HIV criminalization is the unwarranted use of the criminal law to address a public health issue.

Specifically, the criminalization, policing, and incarceration of communities impacted by HIV are structural factors that contribute to high rates of interpersonal violence (IPV), sexual assault, and trauma among WLHIV. This structural violence must also be accounted for as a form of violence against WLHIV, on its own.

HIV criminalization evolved in late 1980s as a compromise to quarantining people living with AIDS.

About 2/3rds of U.S. states have “HIV-specific” statutes that criminalize people living with HIV (PLHIV) for having sexual contact without being able to prove they disclosed their HIV positive status in advance.

The information provided here is a summary of provisions of the referenced statutes. In most instances, the wording used here is wording found in the referenced statutes (one exception is that “HIV” is used for convenience in this chart although the statute may use a different term, such as “AIDS” or “causative agent of AIDS”).

A majority of these laws do not require proving the intent to transmit HIV.

Almost every type of HIV-related discrimination and associated stigma—from denials of medical treatment or admission to schools and camps to unwarranted felony prosecutions for HIV “exposure”

Using preferred language to address stigma

Below we describe 15 ways these laws harm public health, result in unjust prosecutions, and serve primarily to stigmatize and oppress people living with HIV.

“HIV criminalization” refers to the use of criminal law to penalize alleged, perceived or potential HIV exposure; alleged nondisclosure of a known HIV-positive status prior to sexual contact (including acts that do not risk HIV transmission); or non-intentional HIV transmission.

The push to apply criminal law to HIV exposure and transmission is often driven by the wish to respond to serious concerns about the ongoing rapid spread of HIV inmany countries, coupled by what is perceived to be a failure of existing HIV prevention efforts.

Fighting Stigma with Language