By Linda Seiter, Executive Director, Caracole Inc.
For decades, I have been opposed to the Ohio felonious assault law that impacts those living with HIV. I oppose this law for a variety of reasons; chief among them is the stigmatization that results for those living with HIV. This stigma not only impacts the individual in a profoundly negative way, it also creates fear in the community of those living with HIV. This fear inevitably leads to lower testing rates and poor health outcomes. Of note, Ohio’s HIV rate has remained steady and in some populations increased since this law was enacted. In my opinion, this demonstrates that the law has not been effective and should be modernized in such a way that takes into account current science about HIV. We know so much more about HIV that is totally ignored by this law.
I know several people law directly affected by this law who are dear to me. Their lives have been forever changed by their criminal history related to their HIV status. A modernized law would put people first and recognize that those living with HIV are not predators, rather they are valued members of our community, people who happened to contract a disease.
Ohio Health Modernization Movement is committed to changing this law to one that is based in science, requires transmission to occur, intent to transmit, and allows for an affirmative defense. Science and evidence based research tells us that someone who is virally suppressed (Undetectable=Untransmittable – U=U) is not able to transmit the virus to others. We know that some sex acts pose negligible risk of transmission. This evidence should be part of someone’s defense should they be charged under this law. As it is written now, those accused have no real way to defend themselves.
It is well established that the American justice system disproportionately affects people of color and women and this holds true with Ohio’s felonious assault law. This law not only disproportionately affects these communities, but it increases stigma within these communities leading to the increased likelihood of acquiring HIV. If our real goal is to end the epidemic and see an HIV free generation, we must change this law and others like it around the country. I hope you will join with me and all of us who support modernizing this law by contacting your Ohio representative and senator to tell them why you support OHMM’s efforts!
Caracole is a non-profit AIDS Service Organization serving Cincinnati and southwestern Ohio. As we serve our community, we strive to live out the values of our organization and have a positive impact on our community. The felonious assault law is a clear contradiction of our values.