It takes a great effort to try to stop the spread of HIV, but one man in the United States is being sentenced to prison for doing the opposite of that.
Crime And Punishment In Arkansas
On June 4, Stephen Koch of Scranton, Arkansas admitted in court that he intentionally contracted HIV with the goal of spreading the infection to other people. He also pleaded guilty to other drug-related and child pornography charges.
The 25-year-old was first arrested for the drug charges. During the investigation, the police tracked down text messages and other communications on his computer. According to the messages, Koch infected himself with HIV. He also wanted to go on double dates and he lied about his HIV status.
"Just so I can get my brain around this, did I understand the state correctly; Mr. Koch intentionally contracted the HIV virus so he could then infect others?" Judge Robin Green asked in court.
Koch admitted to the crime and he confirmed that his plan was to hurt other people on their dates.
Koch received a 50-year sentence in court. He will also be required to register as a sex offender and join the prison's sex offender treatment program. Upon his release from prison, he must also follow a 10-year suspended sentence agreement.
People React To Someone Intentionally Spreading HIV
Although this is not the first time that someone has been sentenced to prison for knowingly infecting others with HIV, it is still a shocking story to hear — especially for HIV survivors.
"For somebody to have such low self-esteem and lack of worth that they would try to go out and do something that stupid is the only word I can think to use," HIV survivor Mark Williams told Arkansas television station KNWA. "To want to take himself down this road, and infect other people, I just can't comprehend it."
Williams also said that these stories empower HIV survivors to continue to advocate to help other people.
"He was set out to destroy any and everything," HIV educator Ruth Coker Burks said. "It's so unfortunate and awful when people have died just tried to live with this virus."
The Center for Disease Control says that 33 states have criminal laws relating to HIV. In 25 states, it is a felony to exhibit behaviors that pose a risk to knowingly spreading HIV. In 24 states, people with HIV are required to disclose their status to sexual partners. Meanwhile, 14 states have laws for needle sharing.
Some states are diminishing HIV criminal laws. In 2017, lawmakers in California reduced the penalty for intentionally spreading HIV.