Community Forum in Ames August 8
Nick Rhoades was sentenced by a Black Hawk County court to 25 years in prison for “criminal transmission of HIV” even though he used a condom, had an undetectable viral load and did not transmit HIV.
His case has attracted global attention as an especially egregious example of what has become known as “HIV criminalization.” After medical, public health and scientific experts and advocates contacted the judge, he reconsidered the sentence and released Rhoades after serving a year. Rhoades has become an anti-criminalization advocate, working with the Center for HIV Law & Policy and testifying at UNAIDS meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the United Nations in New York on July 9.
Rhoades will join a panel of experts, including Randy Mayer, Chief, Bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis, Iowa Department of Public Health, Tami Haught, from Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network (CHAIN) and Iowa City native Sean Strub, an AIDS activist who founded POZ Magazine and now leads the SERO Project, at a community forum on August 8 at the Ames Public Library auditorium.
The panelists will discuss modernization of Iowa’s statute to reflect contemporary knowledge of the real routes and risks of HIV transmission. Haught, of Nashua, Iowa, is a long-term HIV survivor and is heading up a statewide campaign to modernize the Iowa statute. Strub’s new short film HIV in Not a Crime, which features Rhoades, will be shown.
Iowa’s HIV criminalization laws have become a concern to public health officials, medical and legal professionals and persons living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates. HIV criminalization does not reduce HIV transmission and it discourages those at risk from getting tested for HIV or seeking treatment for the condition. According to Haught, “it’s bad public health policy; we need people to know their HIV status; this law punishes those who take the responsible step and learn their status while privileging ignorance, which is what drives the epidemic.”
The SERO Project, which Strub founded, asserts the Iowa statute violates the human rights of people living with HIV by creating a viral sub-class of people who are singled out in the law for unjust prosecution and excessive sentencing for behaviors that for others would be unremarkable or far less severely punished.
Mayer, who also serves as the Chair of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) points out that the statutes do not reduce HIV transmission—their initial goal—and risk driving the epidemic underground and away from the testing, counseling, treatment, and care. Mayer noted “NASTAD and the Iowa Department of Public Health endorse efforts to examine and support proven public health approaches that Promote safer behaviors without stigmatizing people with HIV by treating HIV differently than we treat other serious infectious diseases. Instead, we should be promoting risk reduction for persons living with HIV through condom use and other safer sex practices, and encouraging, without mandating, an individual’s disclosure of HIV status to his or her partners.”
State Senator Matt McCoy, of Des Moines, has introduced legislation to update the Iowa statute to bring it in line with best public practice. The issue is expected to be debated in the next legislative session in 2013.
The August 8 Community Forum at the Ames Public Library will begin at 6:30pm and is open to the public and no charge.
Nick Rhoades, The SERO Project
“HIV is Not A Crime” short film to be screened
For Release: July 16, 2012