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Lifting The Burden: Georgia HIV Justice Coalition Is Committed to Criminalization Law Reform


Photo by Life Matters from Pexels

Since 2013, the Georgia HIV Justice Coalition, a conglomerate of up to 10 active social justice and HIV-centered organizations, has been at the forefront of reforming Georgia’s draconian HIV criminalization laws. Eric Paulk and Malcolm Reid, newly elected co-chairs of the Georgia HIV Justice Coalition, and proponents of HIV criminalization law reform, say they would like to see the law updated to reflect scientific advancements such as “U=U,” undetectable equals untransmittable, which has not only extended the lifespan of people living with HIV but has reduced the risk of transmission to zero for those individuals on antiretroviral therapy.


There are currently seven HIV-specific criminal laws in effect in Georgia. And according to a report by the Williams Institute UCLA School of Law, 543 people came in contact with the Georgia criminal system under an HIV-specific law between 1988-2017, with 74 convictions, all of which required no proof of conduct likely to transmit HIV. Georgia’s HIV criminal laws were passed in 1998 and 2003, and notably include oral sex and other forms of sex that have little to no risk of transmitting HIV. Paulk points to a lack of education around transmission and HIV hysteria as motivating factors in the creation of HIV criminalization laws.


“I think these things sort of all live in this stigma and narrative created around this HIV boogeyman that just doesn't exist,” Paulk says.


“The fact of the matter is that most folks are not looking to go out and transmit HIV to someone. And for those who are, we actually have laws under the general criminal law that could hold those people accountable. So the need for a stand-alone law to punish people who are living with HIV who are engaged in the same activities as everyone else just defeats the purpose.”


For many advocates, HIV criminalization laws send a dangerous and inaccurate public message that people living with HIV are a threat and should be subjected to prosecution. For Reid, HIV criminalization laws have the potential to disrupt HIV prevention methods, which would have the opposite effect of the law’s so-called intent.


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