Wolf Lectures on HIV Exposure Statutes at Johns Hopkins University

Leslie Wolf

Leslie Wolf, professor of law and director of the Center for Law, Health & Society

Leslie Wolf, professor and director of the Center for Law, Health & Society, recently presented, “Reconciling Criminal HIV Exposure Statutes and Public Health, as part of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics Seminar Series. The presentation was based on Wolf’s research and teaching on this topic, including her chapter in the book, Criminalising Contagion, published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.

States began adopting laws that criminalized exposure to HIV in 1986, after the HIV test became available, Wolf said. The laws typically require only that a person intend to engage the activity that risks transmission of HIV, rather than an intention to harm or actual transmission.

“They also typically do not account for measures that reduce transmission risk,” Wolf said. “Accordingly, they often criminalize no or low risk behavior. This can reinforce misunderstanding and fears about HIV when prosecutions are reported in the media.”

Although HIV exposure statutes have been criticized, politicians and the public continue to support them. Wolf suggested that a 2014 Iowa case and the revised statute Iowa adopted in its wake demonstrates a way forward. “While it falls short of what HIV and public health advocates wanted, the Iowa statute takes into account current prevention science, which is a significant improvement.

In addition to the noontime lecture, Wolf met with the Hecht-Levi Fellows in bioethics, during which she discussed her research on the “web” of legal protections for genomic research. Wolf was a Greenwall Fellow in Bioethics and Health Policy at Hopkins from 1996-1998 and earned her master’s in public health in 1997.