HIV / AIDS Advocates Oppose STI Laws: The R. Kelly Trial

  • The prosecutor’s office claims that R. Kelly did not disclose his STI status to sexual partners in violation of New York law.
  • More than 30 states in the United States have laws that criminalize this behavior.
  • An HIV / AIDS advocate told Insider that these laws reinforce stigma and discrimination.

Disgraced R&B artist R. Kelly is facing trial for a long list of federal sex crimes, including charges that he did not tell his sexual partners that he was positive for herpes, in violation of New York City’s public health law.

Some advocates of HIV / AIDS for a long time against the laws who criminalize sex when diagnosing a sexually transmitted infection, on the grounds that, in some cases, laws may punish adults for having a lawful, consensual relationship.

“People are actually shocked to learn that STIs are generally criminalized,” Jada Hicks, a lawyer at the Center for HIV Law and Policy, an organization that fights systemic stigma against people living with HIV, told Insider. “They are even more shocked when they learn that no transfer is required or intent to harm is not required.”

In New York: A person who knows he is infected with a sexually transmitted disease and has sex with another person. can be accused of misconduct… People who know they have an STI diagnosis that can lead to death and then commit sexual crimes, or have unprotected sex with people who do not know about the infection, can also be guilty of reckless danger.

In R. Kelly’s case, prosecutors have filed herpes charges on 10 counts he faces in federal court in Brooklyn, including racketeering and violations of the Mann Act. Mann’s Law criminalizes the transport of women or girls for sex.

The government claims that Kelly had unprotected sex with two partners without first informing them that he had contracted herpes, and without obtaining their consent under the circumstances.

His defense team filed a motion to dismiss the herpes-related charges. Lawyers argued that herpes is a viral disease, “not an acute bacterial venereal disease such as syphilis or gonorrhea,” and therefore not covered by the New York City Public Health Code, which the singer is accused of violating.

Lawyers also note in the petition that New York City health officials have expressed concern that such laws criminalize sexual behavior among people infected with STIs.

Education versus prosecution

Those who oppose laws criminalizing STIs believe that they increase stigma and discrimination against people with infectious diseases, and that fear of this stigma can lead to less willingness to cooperate in testing and treatment efforts.

IN Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that many of the STI laws in place in 37 states as of 2020 were based on outdated science and “have shown that they discourage HIV testing, increase stigma, and exacerbate inequality.”

Hicks told Insider that the US is sorely lacking in education when it comes to STIs, and she often speaks to people who live with STIs who don’t know they could be held liable for not disclosing their status.

Sketch of the courtroom of attorneys and R. Kelly in lawsuits facing potential jurors raising their hands.

R. Kelly stands alongside attorneys Nicole Blank Becker, Thomas Farinella and Calvin Scholar as jurors raise their hands to take the oath of office as jury selection begins in Kelly’s sexual assault case in Brooklyn, New York, USA, August 9 2021, in this sketch of the courtroom.

Reuters / Jane Rosenberg

There is also a common misconception as to when herpes can be transmitted, she said.

“There are people who sometimes think they are not infectious because they have not had symptoms for a year and they thought they had no symptoms and most people with herpes don’t really know they have herpes, ”Hicks said. … “Such a connection with the educational part that people are not really aware of STIs and how the transmission takes place.”

Tracking STIs to their source is fraught with

Some states, especially Missouri and Florida, are tougher than others when it comes to enforcing STI-related criminal codes, Hicks said.

Hicks said she was unaware that New York City’s public health law is often used in federal court. But she believes that since the R. Kelly case has such a high resonance, prosecutors use all possible angles to achieve a guilty verdict.

The Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The transfer is not required under New York City law, she said, but it can be difficult to convince a jury to reach a verdict without showing them proof of the source. One of the biggest problems with these laws, Hicks said, is that it is impossible to trace the source of the infection because there are a large number of people who live with or have been exposed to STIs at some point.

More than one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 in the United States has genital herpes. According to the CDC.

“The scientific community cannot trace the source of STIs, nor can HIV,” Hicks said. “I think it will be something that will be difficult to prosecute, because how do you know what one person has passed on to another person? There is no way to prove who passed on to whom. “

The Center for HIV Law and Policy has campaigned against STI-related laws for many years and often receives calls from people concerned about whether they have broken the law out of ignorance, Hicks said.

Hicks said she doesn’t know if these fears have intensified in light of the R. Kelly case, “but I know there is growing concern among New York State defenders because we haven’t seen much prosecutions under this law before.”

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