Anyone convicted in South Dakota of intentionally exposing a sex partner to HIV will have to sign up as a sex offender, according to a bill signed into law today.
The AP reports this as though a person has to infect their partner before they become a sex offender, but the law appears to cast its net much wider, as Edwin Bernard points out. How much wider it’s not quite clear, because the act talks rather vaguely of “engaging in sexual intercourse or other intimate physical contact with another person”. But essentially, anyone who knows they are HIV infected and who has unprotected sex with another person can apparently be convicted under this law. And if they are convicted, they become a registered sex offender, which means they can’t live within x metres of a school or a church, they have their mug-shots posted on the internet and other sundry nonsense.
What if you have unprotected oral sex (in which likelihood of passing on HIV is, lets face it, pretty close to nil)? What if you’re taking your meds, have an undetectable viral load and no other STIs (in which case, ditto, as the Swiss have so controversially pointed out)? Is an HIV-infected person who shares a needle with another injector allowed to live next to a school? How are they less dangerous to schoolkids or church-goers than someone who gives her husband a blow job?
I myself am ambiguous about the criminalisation of HIV transmission. On the one hand, I think it can act as a deterrent to careless and even deliberately harmful behaviour. It may encourage infected people to share their status with their partners, and that’s usually a good thing. On the other hand, I accept that it doesn’t help much in the grand push to get more people tested for HIV, so that we can improve prevention and care services. After all if you don’t know you’re infected, you can’t be prosecuted for having unprotected sex. So why would you get tested? Whichever course a state or a country chooses, I don’t see the point of the extra “sex offender” step. Perhaps someone from South Dakota can enlighten me.