The New Jersey senate passed a bill to decriminalize HIV exposure this week. If it passed into law, New Jersey would be the sixth state to do decriminalize HIV transmission since 2014.
Currently, a person in the state who engages in an act of sexual penetration (by any body part) while knowing they are living with HIV has committed a crime and can face up to five years in prison. For other STIs, the prison sentence is capped at 18 months.
The bill, S-3707, repeals the provision about HIV while maintaining the law against knowingly exposing a sexual partner to any STI.
“While working with advocates to identify areas to improve our harm reduction system of care, they identified updating these statutes to reflect what we now know about the transmission of certain diseases, especially in light in the advances in treatment, as a huge priority,” said state Sen. Joe Vitale (D), one of the sponsors of the bill.
HIV advocates and researchers have maintained for years that laws criminalizing the transmission of HIV are counterproductive since they discourage people from getting tested and seeking treatment for HIV, which is known to greatly reduce the risk of transmission.
The application of such laws has also been criticized as racist, as prosecutors sometimes use racist and homophobic stereotypes to portray those charged under these laws as sexual predators.
Moreover, Lambda Legal notes that disclosing one’s HIV status is often not a defense if a defendant can’t prove that their sexual partners knew about their HIV status, and the American Academy of HIV Medicine says that these laws are used even when no one has been harmed.
Currently 34 other states have laws that criminalize HIV exposure.
“New Jersey’s 24-year-old law criminalizing sexual activity by those living with HIV fails to recognize current realities and further stigmatizes the disease,” Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said in a statement last year.