By Elizabeth Weil-Greenberg . . . Every five years, Mark Hunter has to pay around $300 to have his picture displayed in the newspaper and notices mailed to his neighbors, informing them that he is a sex offender. While on parole, he said, he pays about $60 a month in fees and has to attend a sex offender treatment class. His crime? In 2008, he was convicted of failing to tell two ex-girlfriends that he was HIV-positive.
Though neither partner contracted HIV, Hunter was still convicted under Arkansas’s HIV exposure law, which requires those who know they are HIV-positive to disclose their status to sexual partners. Sentenced to a dozen years in prison, he was released in 2011 after serving almost three.
But now, he must register as a sex offender, incurring the same obstacles, humiliation, and costs many others on registries face.
In Louisiana, where he now lives, Hunter’s driver’s license has “sex offender” written in capital letters under his photo, per the state’s registry requirements.
“When I saw it on my license, that was one of the most hardest things ever,” said Hunter, now 44. “Those two words on my license are still a hindrance to the life I want to live.”
Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington State require, or authorize courts to require,those convicted under HIV criminalization laws to be on the sex offender registry, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy. Advocates, who condemn the statutes as ineffective, stigmatizing, and unscientific, are working to modernize the laws in the courts and state legislatures.
But even some of the fixes fall short, they say, including an amendment to Louisiana’s law that was enacted last year that removed biting and spitting as specifically identified means of transmission. Disclosure of HIV status is still required.
“We do not need to be punishing people through the criminal law,” said Robert Suttle, assistant director of the Sero Project, which advocates HIV criminalization law reforms. “This is a public health issue.”
Hunter, a hemophiliac, was diagnosed with HIV in 1981, at age 7. He said he and his family largely kept his status a secret.
“People were treated harshly who had this disease,” said Hunter. “They were treated like outcasts.”