A 30-year sentence was delivered yesterday for infecting one partner and exposing four others to HIV, and it officially makes Michael “Mandingo” Johnson an HIV criminal.
In a nutshell, Johnson actively used social media to attract sexual partners without disclosing his HIV-positive status, much like many gay men do the world over. We covered this in detail in May after the jury reached a guilty verdict. In his sentencing hearing yesterday, as reported by The Daily Mail, St. Charles County Circuit Judge Jon Cunningham said Johnson committed “very severe crimes for not disclosing his HIV status.” Health advocates, however, have a very different take.
“Having unprotected sex is poor judgment, not a criminal act,” said The Center for HIV Law and Policy as quoted in The Nation. They note in addition to Missouri, 31 other states criminalize HIV exposure or transmission and, in some cases, still penalize after status disclosure or condom use. That, and the fact most of these laws were written at the height of the epidemic in the late 80s and 90s, advocates argue, have the unintended consequences of fostering the stigma and heighten the risk of transmission by scaring people today of getting tested.
As LaTrischa Miles of Missouri AIDS Task Force relayed to Poz.com,
“The state of Missouri spends significant resources encouraging its citizens to be tested for HIV. The state then prosecutes people who test positive for HIV and are unable to prove that they disclosed this to their sexual partners. That just doesn’t make sense.
Adding The Atlantic, “Laws that make exposing someone to HIV a criminal act are designed to stop the virus from spreading. But they don’t.” Boom. So what does?
We will never know if Johnson lied about his status. We will never know if his victims ever asked. We do know no one protected themselves. The Center for HIV Law & Policy calls that “victims put[ting] the government seal of approval on their avoidance of responsibility for personal decisions about their sex lives.”
And Mayo Schreiber, the center’s deputy director says, “Punishing Michael Johnson as if he is a murderer because state officials have failed to address a severely outdated, irrational criminal law is not only fundamentally unfair, it is barbaric.”
Drops mic …