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In September, a disability rights group accused the Pea Ridge, Ark., school district of kicking out three siblings after officials learned that members of their family had HIV. The school district did not respond to requests for interviews but issued a statement acknowledging that it had “required some students to provide test results regarding their HIV status in order to formulate a safe and appropriate education plan for those children.” In romantic or sexual settings, people with HIV often report fear of rejection, abandonment and stigmatization.
“My first girlfriend in middle school — her mom banned her from seeing me, and it took me five years before I felt comfortable to try again,” said Reed Vreeland, a 27-year-old New Yorker who was born with HIV.
Nick Rhoades was clerking at a Family Video store in Waverly, Iowa, one summer afternoon in 2008 when three armed detectives appeared, escorted him to a local hospital and ordered nurses to draw his blood.
A dozen miles away, his mother and stepfather looked on as local sheriff’s deputies searched their home for drugs — not illegal drugs, but lifesaving prescription medications.
Lab results and a bottle of pills found in the Rhoades’ refrigerator confirmed the detectives’ suspicions: Nick Rhoades was HIV-positive.
Almost a year later, in a Black Hawk County courtroom, Judge Bradley Harris peered down at Rhoades from his bench.
“And they lull people who are not HIV-positive — or at least think they are not HIV-positive — into believing that they don’t have to do anything.
“One thing that makes this case difficult is you don’t look like our usual criminals,” Harris said. But you created a situation that was just as dangerous as anyone who did that.” The judge meted out Rhoades’ sentence: 25 years in prison.
“Often times for the court it is easy to tell when someone is dangerous. His crime: having sex without first disclosing he had HIV.
And studies show that about half of newly infected people got the virus from those who didn’t know they had HIV.
So relying on a partner to know, let alone disclose, their HIV status is a risky proposition.
The laws, these experts say, could exacerbate this problem: If people can be imprisoned for knowingly exposing others to HIV, their best defense may be ignorance.