A bill has been introduced into the Arizona House of Representatives that would criminalize intentionally exposing an intimate partner to a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
“If you know you’re infectious, you should not be spreading that around no matter what the motivation is,” Rep. Lela Alston, (D-Phoenix), told the Arizona Capitol Times. Alston introduced the bill after learning about a constituent who says she was infected with an STD by a man who did not disclose his infection to her.
Alston’s bill will allow the state to press criminal charges to people who know they have any of the following STDs and don’t inform sexual partners:
If you aren’t familiar with any of these diseases, you can learn more about them here.
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson), a primary bill sponsor, told the Times that the bill can cover other intimate situations.
I did my own research into the prevalence of STD-infected people who maliciously infect others. There just isn’t anything out there that indicates this is a threat, as a University of Iowa professor told the Times. This is what I found:
- An article about manipulative and abusive relationships posed intentional STD infection as a way to keep the other partner from leaving the relationship.
- “Never underestimate an angry ex with an STD and a creative attorney,” LegalZoom warns, and presents cases in which people sued for after being intentionally exposed by ex-partners such as Michael Vick.
- There is a lot of advice for people with STDs that they should be open about it with partners before they get intimate. If they are ashamed or afraid to date, there are dating sites just for them.
Many states did pass laws in the 1980s and 1990s that criminalized purposely spreading HIV in particular, but most of them allowed them to lapse. The laws were too difficult to prosecute and didn’t lower the spread of HIV.
For one thing, there is a strong defense that the sex acts in question were consensual. People can say they agreed to sex but not an STD. But this is not the same as going for a walk and getting shot. You can assume it’s safe to go for a walk and no one will be out shooting at you. But most people with a new partner will either discuss STD status or require a condom, and juries know this.
Another defense could be proving that the infection occurred within Arizona’s borders. What if the couple went to Vegas a lot?
Some public health experts argued that criminalization discouraged people from being tested at all.
It’s not easy to prove someone knew that s/he had an STD. Consider your teenager who mistakes a cold sore for a pimple on his/her mouth and spreads it to a girlfriend or boyfriend by kissing or more intimate acts. (Drop your denial. This goes on in middle school.)
Let’s say your kid covered the pimple with makeup or even knew it was a cold sore and covered it with medication. Are you as a parent responsible if you didn’t notice it and explain that it can easily spread, and it does?
Luckily for the kids, the law only addresses HPV-2 even though HPV-1 is much more infectious than HPV-2 (genital herpes) and can in fact infect the genitals.
Generally speaking, people who suspect they were purposefully infected with an STD can go to a civil court to sue for damages. Juries in civil suits can find in their favor with a majority vote and order the defendant to pay up. In criminal cases, juries have to have unanimous agreement to convict so there’s a much higher burden of proof, which prosecutors have to consider.
This is a well-meaning bill but we have to ask, is it necessary to focus on this when the evidence is that it just doesn’t make a difference?