Criminal law and HIV testing: empirical analysis of how at-risk individuals respond to the law.

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This Note assesses the effect of laws that specifically criminalize behaviors that expose others to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This Note examines the relationship between HIV testing decisions by high-risk individuals and the existence of these HIV-specific statutes, as well as the amount of media coverage related to them. One of the main reasons public health experts criticize criminalization of HIV-exposing behavior is that it may discourage at-risk individuals from undergoing HIV testing. This argument, however, remains empirically untested to date. This study quantitatively examines whether at-risk individuals living in jurisdictions with HIV-specific statutes are less likely to report having been tested for HIV in the past year compared to those living in jurisdictions without HIV-specific statutes. Regression analysis is conducted using data collected in the United States over a seven-year span. The results show that at-risk individuals residing in states with HIV-specific statutes are no less likely to report having been tested for HIV than those who live in other states. However, the number of people who reported that they had been tested for HIV is inversely correlated with the frequency of newspaper coverage of criminalization of HIV-exposing behavior. These findings imply that at-risk individuals' HIV testing is associated with media coverage of criminalizing HIV-exposing behavior. The negative impact that criminal law has on HIV testing rates could be a serious public health threat. Testing is often the initial step in public health interventions that most effectively modify the risky behavior of HIV-positive individuals. The adverse consequence of criminalization should weigh heavily in the design and application of criminal sanctions for HIV-exposing behavior. In addition, future research should further explore the relationships between criminalization, media coverage of criminalization, and HIV testing decisions for a more nuanced understanding of the consequences of criminalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-238
Number of pages45
JournalYale journal of health policy, law, and ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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