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Iowa Appeals Court Upholds Harsh Conviction Of Man Who Didn't Disclose His HIV Status Ahead Of Safe Sex

Nick Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2008 for not telling a casual sex partner that he had met online that he is HIV+. His viral load was undetectable, the pair engaged in safe sex and Nick did not transmit HIV to his partner, yet he still suffered a fate only reserved for the most hardened of violent criminals. In the months after, his sentence was reduced to five years of probation and life on a sex offenders registry. Lambda Legal recently got behind Nick and took his case to the Iowa Appeals Court, where things didn't go as hoped this week. 

Lambda Legal reacted to the news with a press release:

“We’re extremely disappointed that the Iowa Court of Appeals is allowing Mr. Rhoades’s conviction to stand because it was based on a misinterpretation of the plain language of the statute,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal.  “Someone who engages in safe sex, as Nick did, does not have the intent required to support a conviction under Iowa’s law concerning the criminal transmission of HIV.  Lambda Legal will assist Nick in evaluating his current options, which include a request that the Iowa Supreme Court hear this case.”

“This decision is another example of how our outdated perceptions of and misunderstandings about HIV are still driving public policy, leading to horrifying criminal penalties for the person living with HIV, even in situations where no harm was intended or actually occurred,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal. “Nick Rhoades’s story and the extreme sentence imposed in this case illustrate why we must reform HIV criminalization laws in Iowa and around the country.”

What do you think about the court's decision to uphold Nick's conviction and keep him listed as one of the most serious sex offenders in the database?

 

 

Comments

This is really ridiculous.  Responsibility is a two-way street, the guy should not have presumed that Nick was negative.

I'm glad I live in Canada. If you are HIV+ with an undetectable viral load AND you have safe sex, you have no obligation to tell your partner.

This is ridiculous and sad!

I hope Lambda Legal will continue their efforts on Nick's behalf!

I would not have sex with someone positive.  Period.  Even if risk is low, there is still risk and I enjoy my health and want to live a long life.  I agree the sentence is harsh, especially because he was safe, but he still has a responsibility to disclose if he knows.

I would rather have sex with someone that knows he is positive and is doing what he should to stay healthy and manging his meds properly to low his viral loads and stay undetectable, than to have sex with someone that hasn't been tested or could be lying about their status

Here's an example of an ignorant comment (or someone who just doesn't like to think very hard about somewhat complicated subjects).  First things first - it's very possible you've already had sex with someone positive and you just didn't know it.  The only way to eliminate risk is to not have sex.  I'm guessing you engage in quite a few "low risk" sexual activities and simply have an irrational bias against HIV+ people (but correct me I'm wrong and you are, in fact, abstinent). 

You appear to be making the false assumption that the risk of contracting HIV is necessarily higher from (a) someone who discloses to you that he is positive than it is from (b) someone who discloses to you that he is negative or is silent on the issue.  I'll try to point out the faulty logic here:

1.  Situation A - Partner discloses he is positive.  He obviously knows his status and is very likely telling the truth.  Knowing his status, he is likely on medication that is keeping his viral count low.  You, knowing his status, are very likely to use a condom.  All of the above results in a very low risk of transmission (some studies have shown "zero" risk of transmission from partners with undetectable viral loads - even without condom use).

2. Situation B - Partner discloses he is negative or is silent (and you took his silence to mean=negative).  There is a real risk he is either (a) lying about his status or (b) is positive and just doesn't know it yet.  In the case of (b) he's also unlikely to be on any medication so his viral load is probably very high (i.e., very contagious).  You, assuming he is negative, may be less likely to use a condom increasing your risk of contracting HIV.

Now, the various risks described above are impacted by other variables not mentioned here (are you in an exclusive relationship? are you in a lower-risk population (e.g., hetero)? how much can you trust your partner? Is it a one-night stand?), but hopefully it's clear that your simplistic approach to avoiding HIV infection is just plain dumb.  In some gay communities it can actually be *safer* to have sex exclusively with confirmed HIV+ people than to roll the dice with everyone else.  I know this sounds a bit crazy and counterintuitive, but HIV prevention and transmission is a complicated issue, and ostracizing views like yours only encourage people to avoid testing and treatment, which is, ironically, the only thing that truly puts YOU at risk.  Period.

This is simple statistics.  If I am always safe (which I am), Situation B is more safe since some of the time I will be dealing with a negative partner.  In Situation A, I am always dealing with a loaded gun.   I didn't say I never had sex with a positive person, I said I don't have sex with someone who tells me they are positive.  You assume I will have unsafe sex with a partner who doesn't know his status and/or misrepresents it.  That is a bad assumption.

Statistics are never simple - maybe you should re-read what I posted (a couple of times).  But let me repeat a few points for your benefit.  You seem to be operating under the simple and false assumption that all HIV+ people are created equal - they are not.  You are ignoring the fact that an HIV+ person in Situation A is - and here's the key - MUCH less likely to transmit the virus to you than an HIV+ person in Situation B.

So, yes, in Situation A, everyone you sleep with is positive, but because of the reasons I mentioned in my earlier post, transmission is unlikely.  They are NOT "loaded guns" (god, how I hate this ignorant analogy).

In Situation B (your situation), only a few people are positive (those that lied to you or didn't know their status or didn't say anything), but these people are likely MUCH more contagious as they're less likely to be on medication.

So between A and B, which is more risky?  You always use a condom - which is great - so B is not as risky for your as B might be for others who forego condoms when they think their partner is negative, but it doesn't necessarily mean that B is automatically less risky for you than A.  Again, Situation B could actually EXPOSE you to MORE virus than Situation A depending on a host of other variables.

Yes, given B is positive, I agree with you.  But B is more likely than not negative which changes things greatly.  I'm sure you will tell me the fact we're hooking up is a more risky pool than an average gay, but even with that at 50% I'll take my B situation every time.  A is not exactly a homogeneous set either - includes those on meds, those on meth, those who just found out, and those who do nothing.  And I wouldnt assume that B's arent on medications.  Just like the guy in this story.

Please try and get some more education on this topic. He's right Person B is more likely to transmit HIV to you. Person A could have sex with you UNPROTECTED and have a .00001% chance of transmitting it to you. SO many guys lie about being HIV negative because of guys like you who won't have sex with them if they admit it. So they lie and low and behold you have had sex with an HIV positive person, who  most likely isn't very responsible, not on his meds and worst then a guy that TELLS you he's Positive and on his meds. 

But at least now you realize it's all numbers and you make it clear you don't know them and haven't done the math (yet still boldly and ignorantly declare it's an easy decision).

What's the risk of transmission in Situation A?  1%? .001%? .00001%?  What's the % of people lying or ignorant about their status in Situation B? 5%? 10%? 50%?  And what's the risk of transmission from those people? 1%? 2%? 3%? 10%?  Now try multiplying those numbers together so you can properly compare risks between people who disclose they're positive and those that don't.

If HIV+ people in Situation B are twice as contagious but 1/2 as numerous than the risk is EXACTLY the same between the two groups.  I have no idea if those numbers are right for your situation, and you've made it clear that neither do you.

At least we agree on consistent condom usage - that's something that will truly reduce your risk, unlike your internally inconsistent and illogical rule about who you'll sleep with.  Thanks for the discussion.

Not gonna continure to argue with poz guys... I'm over 40 and neg and know the math!!

I'm not poz either... HIV- per a test 4 weeks ago. but I am educated on the topic... which you, clearly are not. 

Let's assume you have unprotected sex--arguably the most dangerous situation, no? Having sex with an HIV+ person on meds with an undetectable viral load is in safer for you than having sex with a person who was tested 2 months ago as HIV- but contracted HIV one month ago. 

Now change unprotected into "the condom broke."  ...change the timing. 

You know nothing of what you speak, but you spew it out as if you do and in the process act no better and cause just as much damage as some bigot living under a rock in Alabama. 

I urge you to actually learn about which you speak. What you are spewing is not only inaccurate, it is offensive and, quite frankly, uneducated. 

You are pretty dumb.  You change my sex to unprotected and you change the B person to HIV+. Then you change the A person to undetectable.  The B person is unknown and I am protected. The A person is positive.  I am done there - I am not interested in viral load.

Now change the "condom broke." I'm taking my situation every time.  Duh.  Build a spreadhseet Hill billy.

I'm not "poz" (you just love those assumptions, don't you?), but sorry to hear that's your attitude towards those living with HIV.  That's great you're over 40 and negative, but that probably has everything to do with your condom usage and very little to do with your math skills.  You've obviously shown that you "know the math," actual numbers be damned!

Mark - Although I don't support his position, XXIV is correct.  Assuming sex between an HIV+ person and a reported HIV- person, it is safer with the reported HIV- person.  (the chance of breaking condom is constant in both.)

I think you are forgetting the majority of gay men do not have HIV, and sure some lie, but estimates are 15% to 20%.  Even if you double that due to population bias, his math still works.

Again, I don't support the position especially if always safe, but is safer with a reported HIV- than a known negative man.  And if your not in a position to check HIV status, you certainly can't check viral load.

LOL.  Only queens would give someone grief for not wanting to have sex with life shortening STDs.  This is pretty much in line with the population, including much less deadly disease.  

Sad... Hope thing work out well for him

Unfortunately, yes, that is the lesson many people will take from this case.  If you don't get tested you have no obligation to disclose anything and you can freely spread HIV to your heart's content.  If you do get tested and fail to disclose your positive status, even if your viral load is undetectable and you use a condom and you don't actually transmit anything you could be facing a 25-year jail sentence.

So the moral of this story is ... don't get tested, right? Because if you don't know your status, then there is no question about whether you intended to cause injury.

1. If your viral load is undetectable what is the percentage chance that you will transmit HIV to your partner if you use a condom?

2. If you have regular unprotected sex but have never been tested and do not know your HIV status what is the percentage chance that you will transmit HIV to your partner if you don't use a condom?

These are 2 important questions people should be asking.  Due to misinformation and outright ignorance, most people do not realize that the risk of the partner contracting HIV is MUCH greater under scenario 2, yet that scenario is completely legal under Iowa's statute (and other HIV criminalization statutes).  These laws as drafted (or at least as interpreted in this case) are not effective at addressing the real health risks and protecting the public, and as one previous commenter mentioned have the perverse consequence of discouraging testing and encouraging more scenario 2's.

"There should be a legal obligation for HIV + people to notify partners of their status."

From a public health standpoint this would only discourage people from getting tested. It's up to each of us to take care of ourselves, not hope for the best from the people we have sex with.

The Nick's sexual partner should not assume someone is HIV-, he also needed to ask Nick's HIV status.  Its a two way street here, you cannot claim failure to disclose if you did not ask.  Also, if he is so concerned with contracting HIV, he should have said something before the clothes come off. Have a conversation, know your status, and be smart people!

Why is this appalling? There should be a legal obligation for HIV + people to notify partners of their status. The fact he did not transmit the disease does not relieve him of his obligation or legal duties to disclose; the logic is equivalent to allowing someone who shot at someone and missed to walk free of penalty, simply because they missed.

Your comment is BS.  It's called self-care, and it's our own responsibility; not anyone else's.

"Should be there a legal OBLIGATION for HIV + people to notify of their status?" !!!!!! Your argument is not logic, it is so irrelevant and fascist. The obligation must be mutual in get involved in sexual safe practices. I have been -sexually- with a lot of men and women, and I must assume they are HIV + in order to protect myself; it sounds cruel but that's the way it is. For instance, years ago I had sexual intercourse with a random guy (of course we use condoms); after we finished he told me he as hurry because he had to go to some drugstore nearby... I had that feeling... you know?... And I asked to him if he was going to buy some retrovirals, and he said: "Yes, I'm going to"; and I said to him: "That's cool, it's good to maintain the treatment"; and say goodbye to each other, and I give him a hug. I don't deny that after that encounter I was kinda freak out, but rationally (again) that's the way things are. One must to be responsible, but nobody has any obligation if the protection is used. There is something called Freedom. (Sorry my english, it's not my primary language).

Is there a reason he didn't disclose his HIV status? Was he doing it bc he thought (or maybe knew) his potential partner, like me, would have said no due to the risk of transmission should the condom malfunction? If that's the case then he's nothing but selfish and only focused on what could make him feel good. I feel that the punishment's much too harsh, but hopefully this will be a lesson to him. I worked for the AIDS Project where I live and can't imagine doing what this guy did. "If it feels good, do it" doesn't apply to every situation in life. I thought we were adults. I can only imagine the uproar my post will cause but it's true - you know the status of your partner before you engage with anyone.

Should of he disclosed his HIV status the answer is yes but what I find interesting about your comment is that the risk of transmission and that you would say no to someone who is HIV+. Unless you have lived under a rock for the past 5 years there have been numerous studies that show the risk of transmission who is undetectable is extremely LOW! I also feel that if you feel so strong about your convictions that you wouldn't have sex with a person that is HIV+ (undetectable) I ask you this? Do you do rapid HIV testing on sexual partners you have had or possibly will have sex with? Also, do you ask your potential sexual partner if he/she has had any risky sexual behavior and what is their definition on risky sexual behavior? Do you ask your partner if he/she has been tested and if that answer is " yes, 6 months ago " do you then ask your potential sexual partner how many people he/she has had sex with and then once again go to the question of sexual behavior and definition of his/her risk. 

Once again I do agree that he should of disclosed his status however, I think you're a bit out of touch with how HIV is transmitted. The only person I see selfish is your lack of education. Sorry but you need a refresher course on HIV and what it means to be undetectable because the likely hood of him giving HIV to a partner is close to nil if he is undetectable and follows his HIV regimin. I would advice you strongly to revisit some individuals at the " AIDS Project." Maybe they can give you a better understanding on what you may be missing out on in a potential partner. 

Only one word occurs - APPALLING!

This makes me ashamed to be an Iowan. I wish him the best of luck with his appeal.

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