Man Arrested for Not Disclosing HIV Status

Poz Magazine is reporting that an Iowa man was recently arrested for having unprotected sex and failing to disclose his HIV status.

Court records do not say whether his partner contracted HIV, but in Iowa a person can be charged for criminal HIV transmission—a Class B —whether or not transmission actually takes place . . . Bogardus is being held on a cash-only $50,000 bond and he faces up to 25 years in prison.

This is certainly not the first case of someone being arrested for failure to disclose their HIV status. From a purely fictional standpoint, the TV show “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” has featured several storylines involving HIV+ individuals being charged with a crime for failure to disclose their HIV status. One episode went so far as to portray the HIV+ character as a “domestic terrorist” who was using HIV as a “weapon of mass destruction.” It’s easy to dismiss these stories as hyperbole run amuck, but a poll regarding the American public’s attitudes towards HIV reveals that these television stories don’t stray too far from reality.

The poll was conducted in 2007 by the Foundation for AIDS Research and Harris Interactive. The pollsters asked Americans what their opinions were about HIV+ women, so that critics of the poll would not be able to dismiss the findings by saying that the attitudes reflected a bias towards gay men, rather than HIV/AIDS.   The results were pretty astounding.

  • 59% of Americans are not comfortable having an HIV+ woman provide child care
  • 47% of Americans are not comfortable having and HIV+ woman serve them food in a restaurant
  • 35% of American are not comfortable having an HIV+ woman cut their hair.
  • 87% of Americans are not comfortable dating someone who is HIV+
  • 89% of Americans are not comfortable marrying someone who is HIV+
  • 1 in 5 Americans said that they would not be comfortable having an HIV+ woman as a close friend

These statistics mirror attitudes that some of us here at Feminists For Choice have disclosed. Is it any wonder, then, that people are hesitant to reveal their HIV status?  If you risk losing friends and loved ones when you reveal your HIV status, and you potentially mark yourself as “undateable,” it stands to reason that many people may not disclose their status because they don’t want to isolate themselves from love and support.  How is this a criminal act?

To bring the point of HIV stigma back to the issue of reproductive choice, the Harris poll also found that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that HIV+ women should be mothers.  The poll found that only 14% of Americans thought that HIV+ women should have a child, while 47% of American thought that women with depression were fit to be mothers, and that 59% of of women with cancer should have children.

These statistics show that there continues to be ignorance of the facts regarding HIV/AIDS in this country. HIV+ women who become pregnant can give birth to an HIV- baby if they receive the proper prenatal care. Although breast milk does have a risk of HIV transmission, bottle feeding with infant formula is a simple solution. People who know their HIV status and receive regular medical care are able to live long, productive lives, so it’s hard to say that HIV+ women shouldn’t be parents because they are at risk of dying.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is killing people. One in five HIV+ Americans don’t know their status because they’re afraid to get tested. Testing is important, because knowing your HIV status can help you get linked into the lifesaving medical treatment that will help you lead a long and healthy life.

I work at an HIV service provider in Tucson. At a volunteer training, one of our seasoned volunteers brought up an excellent point: we all have an HIV status. We’re either HIV+, or HIV-, but we all have an HIV status. If more of us could embrace this mentality, perhaps we could eliminate the stigma that still surrounds HIV/AIDS. We’ll need to do a lot more to educate ourselves and our communities, too. But I think pro-choice advocates need to get on board with the idea that HIV is not a “weapon of mass destruction,” despite popular media’s portrayal of it as such.

Are you debating whether or not you should disclose your HIV status? Here are some tips to consider. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m HIV-, but that’s very easy for me to say.


  1. I think there is a bit of a difference between being able to reveal your status and be treated like a human being, free from stigma…. and intentionally infecting someone or having unprotected sex with a person that has no idea you are carrying a life threatening illness.

  2. AJ, I agree with you about that distinction, but in the Iowa case, there has been no proof presented that the man intentionally tried to infect another person with HIV. If someone was going around intentionally making people sick, then yes, I would think that they need to be stopped. But high profile cases where someone is treated as a murderer for having unprotected sex aren’t the best approach to a public health issue.

  3. Then we are 100% on the same page. I don’t think that having unprotected sex means that you should be arrested. That is outrageous… and it definitely doesn’t to anything productive in terms of public health.

  4. I totally agree that those poll numbers are the result of a lack of education. I mean, one-third of people don’t want an HIV+ person cutting their hair??? Do they even know how HIV is transmitted?

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