The best way to avoid HIV criminalization charges

You cannot be white enough, you cannot be rich enough, you cannot be straight enough to not be misled by the police. The people at the Sero Project have even seen people living with HIV be forced on to a sex offender registry when no sex act took place. 

“The number one thing we tell people when they call because they’re afraid they might be charged is, ‘Don’t talk to anyone but a lawyer,’ ” says Tami Haught, managing director of the Sero Project, a national organization dedicated to ending HIV criminalization. “Even when talking to us, we say don’t talk about your case. Just sort of tell us generally what’s going on, because we don’t want to be called as witnesses.”

This includes information posted to social media and the internet seeking advice or information, including listservs. Anything you put online can be used against you. Anyone you talk to, online or in person or via text message or whatever, can be subpoenaed. 

“Be careful of what you share. Don’t disclose your status. Don’t show your medication right away. Just ask for a lawyer because it takes so little to be convicted under state HIV criminalization laws, and the burden of proof is on the person living with HIV and not the prosecutor in many of these states,” says Haught. “The cops can lie to you. Just keep saying, ‘I can’t talk without a lawyer.’ ”

One group of activists, the Colorado Mod Squad, has put together an HIV criminalization fact sheet in which they repeatedly say, “Shut Your Fool Mouth.” 

The Sero Project trains people living with HIV, including members of the Mod Squad, to fight criminalization, as well as mass incarceration, racism, and social injustice. The organization runs an annual academy to train people living with HIV on policy making, grassroots organizing, and campaign planning. It’s called the HIV Is Not A Crime National Training Academy (HINAC). 

Depending on staff availability, the Sero Project might be able to connect people to lawyers in their area who can work on a criminalization case, or help with commutations and expungements. Email

So when you hear cops or other people say, “What’s the problem with talking to the police if you have nothing to hide,” here’s the problem: You might say something you don’t realize can put you in prison. Haught explains that, “With HIV criminalization cases, just knowing your status can get you charged and convicted.” 

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