An HIV-positive New York man was sentenced to one year in jail for having unprotected sex with five women. One of the victims was 15 years old. Another was pregnant at the time with a second child of this man. He admitted to knowing he was infected with the AIDS virus when he had sex with the women.
The man pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless endangerment. More serious charges, that he displayed a depraved indifference to human life, were let go because none of the victims would testify against him.
New data about HIV/AIDS shows that, unlike this man, many people don't realize they're infected with HIV until they're close to developing AIDS symptoms. About one-third of persons with HIV develop AIDS within one year of diagnosis, according to the data. These findings are important for treatment and for preventing spread of the disease.
The findings could prompt tougher criminal laws about disclosure. They may also make it easier for a person who is infected by someone who knows – or perhaps has reason to know – they are infected to sue that person. This is especially true in light of another study by the National Institutes of Health showing that treatment with anti-retroviral drugs can keep an infected person from transmitting the disease to another. These findings make it even more important for routine HIV/AIDS testing. Early treatment not only can save a person's life, but can prevent another person from becoming infected.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV/AIDS and syphilis, are medical conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. One way to stop the spread of these diseases is to avoid contact, of course, but people often become victims without even knowing about the danger until it's too late.
What are the alternatives?
Do You Have to Tell?
Abstinence and monogamy are two ways to avoid spreading or contracting an STD. Another is to make sure you and your partner protect yourselves by using condoms during sexual activities.
Perhaps the best way to stop the spread of STDs is a combination of tactics: Use condoms and tell your partner about any STD you may have before you're intimate. Do you have to tell? In other words, are you legally required to say anything?
As a general rule, no. There are no federal or state laws making it illegal for you not tell a partner about an STD you may have. That doesn't mean you're completely free from legal problems, though.
In many states, if you don't tell a partner about an STD and your partner contracts the disease, you could face a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit. For instance, STDs require medical treatment to cure them. STDs like HIV/AIDS and herpes are incurable and require life-long medical treatment. STDs can cause the victim to suffer emotional distress or time off work, too.
- Engage in unprotected sexual activity with a partner
- Not tell the partner about the HIV status
- Engage in unprotected sexual activity for the purpose of infecting the partner with HIV
Anyone violating this law faces up to eight years in jail. California's law, as in other states like Florida, makes it a less serious crime - called a misdemeanor - if the STD is something other than HIV/AIDS. A misdemeanor conviction could mean a few months in jail, a fine or both.
Many states have laws to help protect unaware partners. For example, in states like:
- New York, doctors and laboratories who discover patients suffering from HIV/AIDS must notify the state's health department, and if they know the names of the patient's partners, notify those partners and tell them about where they can find counseling, testing and treatment
- Georgia, if a doctor determines a patient has HIV, the doctor may contact the patient's spouse or sexual partner and tell them about the patient's medical condition
- Maine, there are expedited partner therapy allowing doctors with patients diagnosed with STDs to give the patients' spouses or sexual partners medication to treat the STDs without making a medical examination of the spouses or partners
So, in many states, it's very possible someone will learn of a partner's STD whether or not the infected partner discloses the problem first.
Protect Yourself & Others
Anyone who's sexually active should take steps to protect themselves and others from the spread of STDs:
- If you have an STD, you owe it to yourself and your partner to discuss the matter before you're intimate. Give your partner the chance to avoid getting the disease. It's the right thing to do
- If you think you may have an STD, get tested right away. Avoid sexual contact until you get the test results, and talk to your partner about the tests
- Unless you're 100 percent sure you're in a monogamous relationship, avoid unprotected sexual activity with your partner
- Don't share needles under any circumstances - it leads to the spread of HIV
- If you think someone has passed on an STD to you on purpose or refuses to help you cope with the medical costs, talk to an attorney to see what legal options you may have
No one's saying you can't have fun and enjoy another's company and companionship. Being careful and taking steps to protect yourself and your partner makes your relationship less stressful and worrisome, and all the more enjoyable.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Does my state have any laws about transmitting or spreading STDs?
- Can my name and STD-status be shared with other state agencies if my doctor is required by law to report my HIV-status to the state health department?
- If I tell my partner about my STD and my partner agrees to sexual activity with me, can I be sued later if my partner contracts the STD?
- Can I sue the doctor if my information is shared with another person without my approval or knowledge?