During the early years of the HIV epidemic, many states implemented HIV-specific criminal exposure laws to discourage behavior that might lead to transmission, promote safer sex practices, and, in some cases, receive funds to support HIV prevention activities. These laws were passed at a time when very little was known about HIV including how HIV was transmitted and how best to treat the virus. Many of these state laws criminalize behaviors that cannot transmit HIV – such as biting or spitting – and apply regardless of actual transmission, or intent.
After over 30 years of HIV research and significant biomedical advancements to treat and prevent HIV transmission, many state laws are now outdated and do not reflect our current understanding of HIV. In many cases, this same standard is not applied to other treatable diseases. Further, these laws have been shown to increase stigma, exacerbate disparities, and may discourage HIV testing.