When Silence is Illegal: STD Criminalization

by ShelbyW on April 23, 2013

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Just about everyone who makes it through high school is exposed to some form of health class that teaches them of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Unfortunately, this is not always enough to stop people from contracting a disease. Sadly, some people knowingly spread STDs around without warning their partner of the risk. This has led many areas to criminalize knowingly spreading an STD, especially in the case of HIV, and can even lead to civil penalties.

Legal Issues involving STD Criminalization

There have been numerous instances where people have been prosecuted for knowingly spreading sexual diseases. In 2009, for instance, and Arkansas teenager faced several charges after knowingly exposing four people to HIV. He wasn’t immediately imprisoned, and just one year later, the prosecutor had to add on an additional charge for a fifth victim.

Arkansas definitely isn’t the only state that will treat knowing transmission of a serious STD in this matter. States from Alaska all the way down to Florida have specific statutes related to criminalizing STD transmission. Unfortunately, it’s usually up to the victim of these crimes to bring forth charges, and if they never do so, the consequences can exemplify.

Effects on Suspects and Victims

There are various consequences of the criminalization of STDs on both those who spread the diseases and those who unknowingly contract them. The most obvious are geared towards criminals who knowingly spread them. They can sometimes face aggravated assault and other charges related to their action. Some people, however, state that the criminalization of knowingly spreading these diseases may be a disincentive for people who need to get tested. No research has yet to show this link.

For victims, it’s obvious that having relations with a negligent individual can be detrimental, but when criminal charges are brought against that person, the ordeal is not yet over. In fact, it may just be beginning. During the trial, it’s very likely that the victim will be called to witness. Unfortunately, this can put the whole community on alert for the victim’s STD status. For victims who opt not to press criminal charges in an effort to avoid the harsh publicity of a trial, they may still be able to get civil damages from the negligent party who spread the disease.

An Oregon woman was recently awarded $900,000 in damages after contracting herpes from a liaison with a retired dentist who failed to inform her he was infected. In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded. A Charleston personal injury lawyer website explains that “punitive damages are penalties imposed upon the tortfeasor (or defendant) as a means to deter future wrongdoing.

Pros and Cons of STD Criminalization

As mentioned earlier, the two largest disadvantages of criminalizing willful STD transmission is the possible disincentive of testing and the victim possibly being dragged through a criminal court process. It’s important to note, however, that a victim doesn’t have to bring charges if they don’t want to. Sadly, this leaves open the possibility that others may be infected by the negligent partner. This disadvantage is one of the worst catch-22s that could be imagined.

Getting an STD can be a detrimental occurrence in a person’s life, but there is never an excuse for knowingly transmitting the disease. This is not only irresponsible, in many cases, it’s also criminal. It’s important to note that, in most cases, a person cannot be held responsible for spreading a disease that they were unaware of. Anyone who has contracted a serious STD from someone, however, would be wise to seek legal help to find out if criminal charges may be brought or compensation may be recovered to help with medical bills.

Shelby Warden is a legal researcher who writes articles to raise public awareness of serious legal issues. The Charleston personal injury lawyer firm of Howell and Christmas fights for victims who have been harmed by the negligence of others. Seeking legal action against people who knowingly spread STDs may help prevent others from being harmed.

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