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Contact:  Reed  Vreeland,     The  Sero  Project,     Communications  Coordinator:     Reed.Vreeland@SeroProject.com,     917-­‐573-­‐6328  

 

U.S.  House  Appropriations  Committee  Accepts     HIV  Criminalization  Reform  Amendment  

  NEW YORK, NY, July 19, 2013 —U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D–Calif.) has announced that an amendment to require the Attorney General to initiate a review of Federal and State laws, policies, and regulations regarding criminal and related civil commitment cases involving people living with HIV/AIDS, was passed on Wednesday, July 17, by the House Appropriations Committee. “HIV Criminalization laws breed, discrimination, distrust, and hatred. These laws are based on fear, not science. This is an important first step in ensuring that our laws reflect current scientific understandings of HIV,” said Congresswoman Lee in a statement. The amendment was accepted on a voice vote as part of a “manager’s amendment,” to the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, which must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President before it takes effect. “We commend the House Appropriations Committee for this important step towards improved public health. Criminal statutes should reflect the best available science and not facilitate or perpetuate discrimination against people with HIV,” said Robert Suttle, assistant director of the Sero Project and a survivor of an HIV criminalization prosecution in Louisiana. The amendment specifically references the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resolution, issued in February 2013, demanding an end to HIV criminalization laws, prosecutions and civil commitments. The PACHA statement notes, “HIV criminalization is unjust, bad public health policy and is fueling the epidemic rather than reducing it.”

After the bill is passed, the timetable established by the amendment directs the U.S. Attorney General to initiate a review of Federal and State laws, policies, and regulation regarding criminal and related civil commitment cases involving people living with HIV/AIDS within 90 days. In addition, the Attorney General, no later than 180 days from starting the review, will be required to make best practice recommendations that reflect current science and understanding of HIV transmission routes and associated benefits of treatment and ensure such policies do not place unique or additional burdens on individuals living with HIV. “This law could become an important educational tool to help us reform HIV criminalization laws at the local level,” said Tami Haught, Sero Board Member and a community organizer at Community HIV and Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network (CHAIN). “In Iowa, we’ve built bipartisan support to replace Code 709C, the state’s HIV-specific statute, and we have the backing of the State Attorney General and Iowa Department of Health for a law that improves public health by removing barriers to HIV testing and treatment.” Federal legislation like the H.R. 1843 REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act or the amended CJS Appropriations bill are only the most recent examples of a bipartisan leadership in Washington, D.C., to reform HIV criminalization statues. On October 25, 2012, the Sero Project brought five HIV criminalization survivors, and the mother and sister of a sixth, to Washington to testify before PACHA about their experiences facing inappropriate and severe HIV criminalization prosecutions. Most of these prosecutions occurred under HIV-specific criminal statutes that are based on outdated and erroneous beliefs about the routes, risks, and consequences of HIV transmission. None of these HIV criminalization survivors were accused of transmitting HIV. Videotapes of their testimony can be found at http://seroproject.com/videos. In addition to Suttle (quoted above), they include: • Nick Rhoades, an Iowa man who had a one-time sexual encounter, using a condom and while he had an undetectable viral load. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison (since released on reconsideration by the judge) and lifetime sex offender registration. His case is on appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. Eddie Casto, who was born with HIV, and was convicted as a teenager in Spokane, Washington, for failing to disclose even though he had an undetectable viral load. Monique Moree, who was prosecuted by the Army in South Carolina, even though she had an undetectable viral load and her partner said she told him to use a condom. Hazel and Faith Hunter, the mother and sister of Mark Hunter. Mark and his brother, Michael, were born with hemophilia and acquired HIV from blood products; his brother, Michael, died of AIDS in the early 1990s. After Mark and his fiancée broke up, she pressed charges for him not having initially disclosed his HIV status, even though they always used condoms and he had an undetectable

viral load. He served 2.5 years in Arkansas. Donald Bogardus, an Iowa man presently awaiting trial for not disclosing to a partner, even though he had an undetectable viral load.

A resolution addressing criminalization had been proposed to PACHA by the Positive Justice Project (of which Sero is a part), but had languished for nearly two years. After hearing for the first time directly from criminalization survivors, PACHA members expressed shock and outrage and began drafting a strong resolution, incorporating much of what the criminalization survivors requested, which was passed at their next meeting. --About the Sero Project The Sero Project is a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. Founded in 2012, Sero conducts research, raises awareness and mobilizes grassroots communities, policy leaders and advocates to address HIV criminalization. Sero also coordinates a U.S. HIV Criminalization Survivors Network. The Sero Project’s award-winning short film, HIV is Not a Crime, has introduced the growing problem of HIV criminalization to thousands of people around the world. For more information, visit www.SeroProject.com or email info@seroproject.com. ###

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