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They can just wait for their partner to reveal their status and not, instead, take steps to protect themselves.” Schoettes also says that the laws unfairly single out HIV, further stigmatizing and reinforcing misconceptions about living with the virus.“There’s no reason why we should be singling out HIV for this kind of treatment,” he said. Department of Justice has opened at least 49 investigations into alleged HIV discrimination.

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“It’s based in just a lot of fear and misconception.” Being HIV-positive can still carry a powerful stigma. The department has won settlements from state prisons, medical clinics, schools, funeral homes, insurance companies, day care centers and even alcohol rehab centers for discriminating against HIV-positive people.

Individuals with HIV may also fear that news of their status will spread to third parties, leading to rejection, embarrassment or ostracism for themselves or even their loved ones.

In a recent survey of HIV-positive people in New Jersey, 90 percent said that people with the virus bore most of the responsibility to protect their partners.

More than half approved of the kind of laws that resulted in Rhoades’ sentence.

The laws, these experts say, could exacerbate this problem: If people can be imprisoned for knowingly exposing others to HIV, their best defense may be ignorance.

Such laws, then, provide a powerful disincentive for citizens to get tested and learn if they carry the virus.

Nick Rhoades was clerking at a Family Video store in Waverly, Iowa, one summer afternoon in 2008 when three armed detectives appeared, escorted him to a local hospital and ordered nurses to draw his blood.

A dozen miles away, his mother and stepfather looked on as local sheriff’s deputies searched their home for drugs — not illegal drugs, but lifesaving prescription medications.

The national tally is surely higher, because at least 35 states have laws that specifically criminalize exposing another person to HIV. In 60 cases for which extensive documentation could be obtained, Pro Publica found just four involving complainants who actually became infected with HIV.

Even in such cases, it can be hard to prove who transmitted the virus without genetic tests matching the accused’s HIV strain to their accuser’s.

“Shifting the burden of HIV disclosure from the infected person, who is aware of a known danger, to one who is completely unaware of their partner’s condition smacks of a ‘blame the victim’ sort of mentality,” Jerry Vander Sanden, a prosecutor in Linn County, Iowa, wrote in an email to Pro Publica.

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