The new coalition will work toward the goal of making South Carolina the first Southern state to change its discriminatory HIV criminalization laws

The South Carolina chapter of Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national advocacy organization of women living with HIV, is proud to announce that it will convene its first meeting of a broad coalition to repeal or modernize the state’s outdated, discriminatory HIV criminalization laws on Thursday, February 1, from 6:00-7:30pm in Columbia (location TBD). Organizations that have already pledged their participation in the coalition include the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, the South Carolina HIV Task Force, Planned Parenthood the ACLU of South Carolina, South Carolina Equality, Palmetto AIDS Life  Support Services (PALSS), CASA Family Services, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Minority AIDS Council of Orangeburg(MAC), Bamberg and Calhoun Counties All organizations and individuals interested in getting involved with the efforts to change South Carolina’s HIV criminalization laws are invited to attend the convening and join the coalition.

At this initial meeting, participants will discuss how to create a network for education around the state to raise awareness of South Carolina’s HIV laws; messaging for the public; and steps to changing the laws. There will be at least two more general meetings in the spring, as well as subcommittee meetings or conference calls. The work of the coalition is one component of a project for which PWN-USA South Carolina has received a second year of funding from the AIDS United Positive Organizing Project. PWN-USA South Carolina is also leading efforts to educate people living with HIV, lawmakers and impacted communities about the state’s HIV criminalization laws and how they harm people living with HIV specifically and public health broadly.

South Carolina is one of 32 states that still has laws on the books criminalizing otherwise legal conduct when a person is living with HIV. When these laws were passed in the early 1990s, there was no effective treatment for HIV, and lawmakers felt that they were necessary to prevent transmission. However, the laws have proven ineffective at reducing HIV rates, and studies show they actually hurt prevention efforts by increasing HIV stigma and making disclosure even more complicated and difficult for people living with HIV, as the burden of proving disclosure lies on the person with HIV. Many states allow people living with HIV to be prosecuted even for behavior that cannot transmit HIV, like spitting or biting.

Further, major scientific and medical advances since 1996 have dramatically changed what it means to live with HIV. Not only can a person who is adherent to their medications live a long, healthy, normal life, but, with a sustained undetectable viral load—meaning medications have suppressed the virus in their bloodstream to amounts too minuscule to be detected—they also cannot transmit HIV to their sexual partners, even without condoms. The CDC confirmed this in September 2017, and all the top HIV researchers across the world agree on the science. HIV criminalization laws do not take any of this into account, and as a result, people living with HIV have been sent to prison for behavior that not only did not transmit HIV but in which HIV transmission was literally impossible.

For these reasons, public health officials and the Department of Justice under President Obama have advised states to repeal or modernize their laws to bring them into alignment with current science.

If you are interested in attending this first meeting, please contact Pat Kelly to RSVP or with any questions at or at (803) 747-6046.


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