By Tylor Mahany
We often do not know the impacts our actions will have on the future and this is more evident when it comes to writing laws that can cause effects on people’s lives for generations to come. This is what happened at the start of the millennia when Ohio’s legislator passed HIV/AIDS felonious (jail time) assault laws. Twenty years after these laws were signed in science and technology have made them obsolete and harmful to the citizens of Ohio. Ohio’s current laws are Unscientific, Unproductive, Unsupported, and most importantly Unjust. It is for that fact why the Ohio Health Modernization Movements (OHMM) mission of bringing these laws up to date with modern science and consciously helping guild legislature to create laws that can be beneficial to all Ohioans in years to come.
Current laws are unscientific because they penalize actions that possess zero risks of HIV transmission between individuals to take effect; as well as, having no mention of their impacts on people living with HIV which are undetectable. When someone with HIV is undetectable there is an effective zero percent chance of infecting an HIV-negative person with HIV. It is the goal of OHMM to clarify the laws to incorporate important definitions around HIV as well as outline specific scientifically proven ways for transmission to occur.
Current laws are unproductive and are counter-productive to many of the public health initiatives around HIV. There is no documented proof that these laws help reduce transmission or promote individuals to come forward to be tested. Instead, there is evidence that singling out this one chronic illness and applying a felonious punishment decreases stabilization and makes the public health workers’ job that much harder to get individuals the care they need. This care is important because it allows people living with HIV to live a normal life expectancy and become undetectable. It is OHMM’s goal to help craft the laws to promote public support for our health workers and reduce the stigma around HIV.
Current laws in Ohio are unsupported and opposed by criminal justice experts, public health and medical experts, the ACLU of Ohio, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the CITIZENS OF OHIO! The coalition of organizations that are a part of OHMM brings together public health experts, law experts, criminal justice experts, and CITIZENS to the same table working on the same problem. This coalition of organizations continues to grow and continues to bring in support for these changes!
Lastly, the current laws are unjust! If a person with HIV does not disclose their status before engaging in sexual conduct (which the current laws do not define) they can go to jail for up to 8 years even if no risk of transmission of HIV takes place and they did not intend to cause harm! This is a harsher punishment than arson, sexual battery (unwanted sexual touching), or reckless homicide! OHMM wants to update these laws to be consistent with the level of crime as well as make it so there needs to be transmission and intent proven.
With these changes to the criminal code around HIV, we can promote science, public health and justice written by Ohioans! Join the fight with OHMM in helping to create a POZ-itively bright future for Ohio!
Tylor Mahany is a volunteer for OHMM and a concerned Ohioan working toward the betterment of all the people living in Ohio.