HIV Adoption + HIV Criminalization

According to the US Office of Adolescent Health, ~47% of all teens have had sex. Of that group, half have also engaged in oral sex and a tenth in anal sex. 40% of sexually active teens do not report regular use of condoms, 15% of those have had 4 or more partners, and over a quarter of all teens, sexually active or not engage in "sexting" or other forms of virtual sexual activity.  For gay and bisexual teens, these numbers are even higher.

No one likes to talk about it, but kids are "doing it." Are they emotionally ready for all of that? Most likely they aren't. But it's happening. Whether we face it, deny it, or ignore it, it's happening.

For those of us with HIV affected families, there is an added layer of complexity to the already confusing waters of sexuality. Dealing with the potential reactions of a partner can be stressful and fear-inducing; maybe even more so than navigating when, where, why, how, what, and to whom you disclose.

The number of HIV+ children in the US is shrinking as more and more positive women are giving birth to babies without HIV.  But in recent years a growing number of families have welcomed children living with HIV (usually from other countries) into their homes.  Most of these families are committed to dispelling stigma and myths surrounding HIV adoption, emphasizing that HIV is now a manageable chronic illness and that these children deserve the right to grow up and thrive like any other adoptee.  Their families are living examples that HIV is nothing to fear and helps to promote HIV acceptance for all PLHIV, adults and children.  Many have influenced others with their stories, prompting more families to consider, and in several cases, complete an adoption of a positive child.

It is to the HIV adoption community that I am addressing this post.

You have made great strides through the years.  Thanks to you, people are becoming more and more aware of the need for and the possibilities of an HIV adoption. You are raising healthy, happy kids with access to life-saving medication in addition to the support of a loving family and the abundant resources available within the US.  You guys rock!

However, your work is incomplete.  Unfinished. Undone.

You have brought one or more HIV+ children to this country.  You might have encouraged others to do the same. But what kind of a world, what kind of a system awaits them when they grow up and are ready to become adults?  One that is very different than what they are experiencing now, under the relatively safe bubble of childhood.

32 out of the 50 states in this country have HIV-specific criminalization laws, and all 50 can utilize general laws and statutes to criminalize HIV regardless of the presence or absence of a criminalization law. In many states, the saliva, genitals, and genital fluids of PLHIV are legally considered to be "deadly weapons."  These laws are antiquated and do not match up with a scientific understanding of HIV transmission risk.  But however ridiculous the laws might seem, they are legitimate laws - and they apply to your child.

Children grow up. They do not stay five, or ten, or twelve. They become 14 years old, 18 years old, 25 years old. In the course of that growing up, things happen. One of which may the desire to engage in sexual activity.  Which is an emotional and uncertain time for anyone, but especially for young people living with HIV.  Most likely they are well-informed about how HIV transmission and know all the facts, but being knowledgeable doesn't make having the conversation any less potentially awkward.

According to CDC statistics, there's a high probability that some of them may become sexually active before the age of twenty. In spite of their parents' morals. In spite of what they've learned in health class. In spite of purity pledges, promise rings, chastity pacts.  Some kids will wait. But some will not. And that's where the problem lies.

In a decade or more a spiteful ex with a grudge could decide to press charges on your child, claiming lack of disclosure even if they did know. As could that person they had a drunken hook-up with at a party due to a temporary lapse of judgment - even if your child has an undetectable viral load and a condom was used.  Or some other possibility.

People spend much more of their lives as adults than they do as children.  As parents, we have a responsibility to do what we can to bring about radical change to improve the world that our children will inhabit.  It's not good enough just to bring them here - not if they and/or other people who are like them are going to be subject to biased, unjust laws that single them out for their HIV status. We need to do more.  For them, and for everyone else too.

I googled HIV adoption. I read link after link about the need to quell stigma and raise awareness about HIV.  All very important.  I read blog after blog encouraging others to consider HIV adoption also. Definitely important.  I read links advocating for ethical adoption and links about supporting orphans and child welfare programs. Also important.  I read opinions about public HIV disclosure versus more selective HIV disclosure. Still important.

If even half of the people who've written blog posts about why they chose HIV adoption would take the time to write to their state legislators, local prosecutors, and local media about HIV criminalization, what an impact it could make! There are hundreds of HIV adoptive families across the country living in various states. That might not sound like a lot, but it is. One recent article by a mom about HIV adoption has nearly 40,000 shares in its first week!  HIV adoptive families have a platform and a voice. It's time to join hands with HIV advocates who have been fighting this battle and lend support and assistance.  HIV criminalization fuels stigma, violates human rights and dignity, and does nothing to reduce the overall incidence of HIV.  It rips apart families, destroys lives, promotes shame and discrimination, and is poor public health practice. We can do better as a society. We can do better as a community.

We can do better.

Speak up and tell the world that HIV is NOT a crime!!!

This link is a hub for a plethora of resources to help you get started understanding and advocating for HIV Decriminalization. Check it out below!

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