STUDY: Fear of criminalization harms trans people living with HIV

Findings from a recent survey suggest that fear of prosecution under the law may lead trans people living with HIV (PLHIV) to avoid testing and treatment at disproportionately high rates. The National HIV Criminalization Survey, released by the Sero Project and the Transgender Law Center last week, found that 58% of transgender and third sex-identified PLHIV saw fear of prosecution as a reason to avoid testing, 61% saw it as a reason to avoid disclosure of one's HIV status to sexual partners, and 48% saw it as a reason to avoid treatment.

The survey revealed some telling attitudes towards disclosure laws, which are laws implemented in many states requiring people living with HIV to reveal their HIV-positive status to others, or face punishment. Overall, all people living with HIV surveyed tended to experience:

  • A lack of trust in the court system.
  • A lack of clarity regarding what offenses could get them arrested.
  • Regional differences concerning trust of law enforcement and information provided about non-disclosure laws (people surveyed in the Midwest and South, where such laws are more heavily enforced, tended to be less trustful of the court system and less likely to get tested, while people in the Northeast and West were less likely to be informed of the laws' existence).
  • A lack of clarity regarding whether their state had a law requiring disclosure of HIV status.
  • A lack of information received regarding the possibility of prosecution for not disclosing their status.

Transgender people living with HIV were even less likely to trust the court system, and only 15% of transgender people living with HIV believe that a person with HIV would receive a fair hearing by the criminal justice system. In addition, they signify that disclosure laws present significant barriers to testing and treatment for trans and gender non-conforming people.

GLAAD calls on the media to explore how the impact of disclosure laws harm people living with HIV, and specifically how transgender people are impacted by disclosure laws.